Issue #2(16) 2018 Environment

Monitoring marine litter by satellite

Ian Carnelli ESA, Paris, France
Paolo Corradi ESA, Noordwijk, The Netherlands
José Gavira Izquierdo ESA, Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Luca Maresi ESA, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Marine litter presents a huge problem in our oceans with some scientists warning that by 2050 the quantity of plastics will outweigh fish. Omnipresent plastic materials of all shapes and sizes break down very slowly in the marine environment; estimates suggest more than 400 years in many cases. They originate from many sources and cause a wide spectrum of environmental, economic, safety, health and cultural issues, as well as being harmful to marine life. ESA is now pioneering studies to find out if satellite monitoring could provide crucial data to support solutions towards cleaner seas.

Marine litter (ML) can be defined as any item that has been made or used by people that ends up deliberately or accidentally in the sea. The identification of the origin and pathways that lead to litter entering the marine environment can be very complex, due to the multitude of potential sources but also because it can be transported by sea currents and wind across long distances [1].

Plastic ML is a global issue and can be found in all seas from the equator to the poles, as well as in freshwater systems and, according to the United Nations, it causes an estimated US$13 billion of financial damage annually to marine ecosystems. Marine animals can be injured or killed as they become entangled in items such as derelict fishing nets, or ingest plastic that has been mistaken as food.

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