Toolkit: Marine litter retention, Implementing your project, Monitoring marine litter

See also: Litter collection | Litter reception | Recycling and disposal | Project communication | Raising awareness on marine litter | Complementary activities

Monitoring the marine litter collected by your project will require you to collect information about the origin, amount and composition of the waste that fishermen return to port. The information collected can be used to evaluate the results of your project (see section Project monitoring and evaluation), to raise awareness about the marine litter problem and your project, and to attract support for your project. It will also help you to more efficiently manage your project in the future. For example, if you monitor the litter collected during the first year of your project, you will be able to make better assumptions on how much litter you can collect for the next years. You may also learn more about the sources of marine litter, and be able to better target your awareness-raising activities. If you prepare any reports on your projects for policymakers (for example, local, regional or national authorities) or research organisations, you could also integrate the results in your reports so that these organisations can use the information in developing policy measures and improving their understanding of the marine litter problem.

The information that you will collect will depend on the resources available for your project and on the possible uses of the information. At the very least, you should monitor the total amount (in weight and volume) of marine litter that is collected and, where possible, the amount collected by each of the vessels. The waste management company will most likely count and weigh the big bags for invoicing purposes. This will help you keep track of the amount of marine litter collected. If you mark the bags and keep track of which vessels receive which bags, you can also track the amount of litter collected by each vessel.

You might also want to monitor the origin and the composition of the marine litter. This will require a sample analysis of the content of a sufficiently large number of big bags at specific intervals during the year. There are no accepted standards on the percentage of the total marine litter collected needed to draw statistically meaningful conclusions on the composition of the marine litter, but 10% seems to be a minimum. To support your project’s monitoring activities, you could develop a simple sheet for the sample analysis. 

When you organise your marine litter monitoring scheme, you should be realistic about the type of information you can collect and think about the practical consequences for your project – in terms of costs and resources. Also, you should only collect information that will be subsequently used, for example to underpin awareness-raising campaigns or policy measures. For example, if you are considering analysing a sample of the marine litter to determine its origin by linking the amounts collected per vessel with the fishing grounds where the vessels are active, this may allow you to draw conclusions on the distribution of the litter.  While this information might be very  interesting,  you  should consider whether this information will be used. If the only use of the information is your project’s report, it may not be worth the extra effort. 

Your organisation could undertake the marine litter analysis alone or, ideally, with the support of others, such as the waste management company or a research institute. In general, fishermen should not be asked to participate in monitoring activities, due to the burden this would place on their participation in the project.

More guidance on monitoring marine litter is provided in the Guidance on monitoring of marine litter in European Seas (JRC, 2013), which was prepared by an expert group on marine litter advising on the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. This document provides a master list of categories of litter items that might be documented during marine litter monitoring activities, which could be used as the basis for your monitoring sheet. 

An example monitoring sheet, based on the European guidelines, is available for download. This document can be adapted according to your local situation and be used in your monitoring activities.

Monitoring sheet template