Online portal for marine litter and its implications for marine life

Data Portal LITTERBASE

For many years, the pollution of the oceans with marine litter received only little attention from the public although the global production of plastic has grown immensely. However, since the discovery of the oceanic ‘garbage patches’ and microplastics the littering of the oceans has since become a hot topic, one that concerns many people and receives extensive, frequent media coverage.

Although marine litter is visible, unlike many other pollutants, and has been the topic of extensive recent research many questions remain unanswered. For example, it is still unclear what the overall extent of ocean pollution is, or how the enormous amounts of oceanic plastics affect marine life and ecosystems.

LITTERBASE informs the public

As of early 2017, LITTERBASE will provide access to our current state of understanding of marine litter to the general public and stakeholders. Published records of marine litter and microplastics and their impact on marine life will be compiled in a database. The regularly updated information will be displayed in distribution maps and other graphs on an interactive online portal. In the long run, data from citizen scientists may also be integrated in these graphs.

LITTERBASE enables global meta-analyses

The database behind the portal will facilitate scientific meta-analyses to assess the distribution of litter in our oceans and to address burning questions:

  1. Where is all the Plastic?

    Well-ground global estimates of plastic litter entering the oceans are currently 10-1000 time higher than results based on empirical evidence. This suggests the presence of hidden sinks that have not been taken into account (e.g. deep seafloor, sea ice, marine life)

  2. Are there global patterns in the distribution of litter and microplastics?

  3. What is the composition of litter in our oceans?

  4. Which groups of organisms are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of marine litter and microplastic?
Seabirds are using old fishing nets as nesting material in their nesting colony at the island Helgoland (North Sea/Germany) (Photo: Thomas Ronge)

LITTERBASE needs your support

Our database should be complete and up to date. Therefor we need your support. You can help us if you:

  • work as a scientist and have published studies. Please send them as PDF to our mail address litterbase@awi.de
  • have geo-referenced photographs documenting marine litter or showing interactions between litter and marine life to increase our knowledge base, especially in terms of remote areas or habitats
South Georgia, 2010, Leith Harbour: A Southern fur seal with a rope around its neck.
A Southern fur seal with a rope around its neck. (Photo: Maarten van der Duijn Schouten)