Marine plastics in the Canadian Arctic waters

Peter Gijsbers, working as hydrologist at a Dutch research institute called Deltares. Over the last ten year she has developed river flow forecasting systems in the USA, Australia and the Netherlands. Currently Peter is analyzing what the fresh water supply issues of the Netherlands will look like in the 2050’s. In Holland Peter did put a lot of glas pots onboard the Tecla for his researche on water during the voyage. Results later.

The spread of plastics in the marine environment has received much attention in the last few years. For the Arctic, a lot of focus is on the Barentz Sea, which seams to fill up with plastic coming from the Atlantic Ocean by the Gulf stream. For the Canadian Arctic waters hardly any information can be found. When signing up for the NWP trip of Tecla, I decided to conduct some beach observations using the OSPAR beach litter classification scheme as guideline. I did not follow their strict instruction to square off a 100m or 1 km section, but conducted the observations as appropriate at the beginning or end of our landing hikes. I was primarily interested in the amount and age of litter deposited by sea.

https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/intermediate-assessment-2017/pressures-human-activities/marine-litter/beach-litter/

This is not the Arctic this is N Europe

From a litter perspective, our landings could be divided in three types: settlement landings (e.g. Pond Inlet, Gjoa Haven), landings within 5 miles of a settlement (e.g. Fortune Bay and Disko Fjord/Nipisat in Greenland, as well as Kugluktuk) and remote area landings (e.g. Beechey Island, Four Rivers Bay, Weld Harbour, M´Clintock Bay, Jerry Lind Island and the landing at the pingos north of Tuktoyaktuk).

I did not take any observations at settlement landingsfor the simple fact that many humans do not seem to care and leave a lot of stuff behind. We´ve seen many abandoned children bikes in or near the water, as well as car tyres, ropes and materials used for fishing. Landings close to settlements often showed signs of camping, such as fuel cans shotgun cartridges, cigarette buds and drink cans. Sometimes these were partly overgrown, sometimes the litter seemed pretty recent. Remote area landings were most interesting to me. generally we came across a few items. At the Union Bay side of Beechey Island, we found a decayed cleaner bottle and an aluminium drink can. At Four Rivers Bay, we found a glass bottle and a large rusty oil drum. Caribou at Weld Harbour were exposed to a few pieces of strapping bands. M´Clintock Bay has its own story, but some bottle caps and a juice bottle (best before 02-2019) were clearly recent. During our walk on Jerry Lind Island, we hit a beach facing Queen Maud Gulf, where some aluminium drink cans and cleaner bottle and wire had been deposited by the sea. With the landing on the pingo hike, a few miles north of Tuktoyaktuk, we saw lots of drift wood from the Mackenzie river. I almost thought the beach was litter free until I left the beach and found some cloth, cleaner bottles and a few other plastic pieces just blown up the land.

Nipisat (the abandoned whaling station in Disko Fjord), the Northumberland House side of Beechey Island and M´Clintock Bay (former settlement around the removed Defence Early Warning line radar station) all showed a lot of aged pollution from the settlement. Especially the first 300m beach of the headland at M´Clintock Bay was a mess, it looked like a former waste belt ruptured open by the ice. All over the place you could find glass, ceramic plates, cloth, even pieces of a recordplayer single overgrown by lichen, and completely decayed Eveready batteries.

My conclusion from all those observations: remote beaches in the Canadian Arctic are unfortunately not free from marine litter, although the quantities are low and the litter found is seldom of recent origin.

Peter