Investigating the distribution and regional occurrence of anthropogenic litter in English marine protected areas using 25 years of citizen-science beach clean data
Date of publication 29 June 2020
Authors Nelms, Sarah E.; Eyles, Lauren; Godley, Brendan J.; Richardson, Peter B.; Selley, Hazel; Solandt, Jean-Luc; Witt, Matthew J.
Sources Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) : 263 (DocId: Pt B) 114365.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designated to enable the management of damaging activities within a discrete spatial area, and can be effective at reducing the associated impacts, including habitat loss and over-exploitation. Such sites, however, may be exposed to the potential impacts from broader scale pressures, such as anthropogenic litter, due to its diffuse nature and lack of constraint by legislative and/or political boundaries. Plastic, a large component of litter, is of particular concern, due to increasing evidence of its potential to cause ecological and socio-economic damage. The presence of sensitive marine features may mean that some MPAs are at greater potential risk from the impacts of plastic pollution than some non-protected sites. Understanding the abundance, distribution and composition of litter along coastlines is important for designing and implementing effective management strategies. Gathering such data, however, can be expensive and time-consuming but litter survey programmes that enlist citizen scientists are often able to resolve many of the logistical or financial constraints. Here, we examine data collected over 25-years (1994-2018), by Marine Conservation Society volunteers, for spatial patterns in relation to the English MPA network, with the aim of highlighting key sources of litter and identifying management priority areas. We found that MPAs in southeast (Kent) and southwest (Cornwall and Devon) England have the highest densities of shore-based litter. Plastic is the main material constituent and public littering the most common identifiable source. Items attributed to fishing activities were most prevalent in southwest MPAs and sewage related debris was highest in MPAs near large rivers and estuaries, indicating localised accumulation. When comparing inside and outside of MPAs, we found no difference in litter density, demonstrating the need for wider policy intervention at local, national and international scales to reduce the amount of litter.