One of the projects of Archipelagos marine conservation team is the study and assessment of the litter that is accumulating on coastal zones, waterways and wildlife areas here on Samos and Lipsi islands. This litter has the potential to cause many fatalities both on land in the marine environment. Macroplastics are plastic pieces larger than 5mm and are the most abundant marine debris.

Figure 1 port clean up in Vathi

A long-term monitoring survey that we carry out daily since June 2017 assesses the macroplastic load in two beaches, where every working day we litter pick and analyze what we find, separating it into the differing litter categories and subsequently photographing and weighing it. From this, we can quantify the load of different types of debris over time and in relation to sea conditions.

Figure 2 port clean up in Vathi


We also collect and record rubbish from river ways before the rainy season begun in an attempt to stop rubbish from the land being washed into the seas. Specific beaches and wetland areas have also been litter picked due to the environmental impact the litter can have on wetland species located close by, specifically the birds that live there. Birds are renowned for mistaking plastic items, particularly bottle caps, for food. They die of poisoning due to the toxic chemicals found in the plastics, choking or a phenomenon called ‘false satiation’ which is when the bird’s stomach fills with indigestible plastics so the bird thinks it is full, stops eating and eventually dies of starvation. Marine life, such as turtles, dolphins and large fish species, can get tangled in floating litter and either drown or starve to death – this is known as ghost fishing when discarded fishing nets are the cause.

So far we have removed over 25,000 pieces of litter from the islands beaches and rivers since June 2017!

Figure 3. litter washed on the beach
Figure 4. clean-up by Archipelagos members.

On one of the local sandy beaches, we collected litter from just five strips of sand, from the waters edge to the back of the beach and managed to find 7,251 pieces of litter. Contrary to our usual collections, the majority of these were microplastics, pieces smaller than 5mm. Some of these were pieces of containers that had broken into hundreds of smaller pieces but we also found a large amount of resin pellets.

These resin pellets can be mistaken for small weathered rocks but are in fact the raw material that plastic is made from. They are melted down and mixed with additives, preservatives and other chemicals to give the new plastic item different colors, textures and strengths. They come from resin pellet factories where they are accidentally washed into drains or escape through other means, or they are lost during transportation.

Fig. 5 a petri dish on the sand filled with rubbish for size comparison.

We will continue to analyze the litter from beaches in a long-term study to identify the effect that tourists, weather and other factors may have upon beach debris. Also, we are about to commence a new educational programme to attempt to reduce plastic pollution from the source and encourage local communities to take responsibility and care for their beautiful islands.

Harriet Moore

BSc. (H) in Animal Biology

Nottingham Trent University