The long-term macroplastic monitoring project began on early June 2017 and since then it is carried out almost daily in two beaches of SE Samos. Every weekday, two members of the research team go to the sites to collect all the debris left by the public and washed in by the sea. All the collected debris is brought back to the Archipelagos base to be sorted, counted and recorded.
During the first 35 surveys, the team has collected a total of 5509 individual pieces of debris. This makes an average of 157 pieces per survey, which includes 2159 individual pieces of plastic and 899 cigarette butts.
One interesting find that the team were collecting for a month without knowing what it was, is a 12 calibre shotgun bullet case! They were, and still are, being found frequently in the vegetation close to one of the sites and are rarely found washed up by the sea. It is thought their origin is from hunters shooting birds in the area. So far, we have collected 303 of them.
The items we are finding the most of are plastics and cigarette butts, which are also the two items which have the potential to cause the most damage to the environment and wildlife. Marine mammals, sea turtles and other animals often confuse plastic for their prey. It is an all too common occurrence that cetaceans are dying from starvation due to their stomach being full of indigested plastics.
Cigarettes also pose a threat to wildlife. We are collecting the butts of cigarettes, which includes the filter, designed to absorb all the chemicals humans don’t want to consume. These are found within the filter and can leach out into the surrounding environment, such as the sea and beaches, within an hour of contact.
This long-term macroplastic monitoring project will continue throughout the course of at least one year, aiming to assess seasonal trends and possible sources of the debris. In parallel, we are also working on an awareness campaign to make the public aware that plastics and debris, when exposed to the environment, are dangerous materials. We should all care enough to collect them wherever we encounter exposed plastics, as they will soon break down to fragments that will no longer be recoverable.