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marine environment

These pages are no longer being updated. Any updates will be published in the Marine Environment section on gov.scot

Tackling Marine Litter in Scotland

Marine Litter is washing up on Scottish shores with each tide.  It has many sources, from land and sea and from Scotland and further ashore, indeed some litter has even travelled from other continents. We  prioritised actions to tackle marine litter with commitments in our 2017-18 and 2018-2019 Programmes for Government:

  • Hosting Scotland's International Marine Conference 2019 to discuss improving our marine environment and protecting our wildlife, focusing on marine plastics. See section on left hand side of page for information.

  • Work with the fisheries sector and coastal communities to develop proposals to tackle the issue of fishing litter and lost gear.

Further to this, we committed to reviewing our Marine Litter Strategy in our 2019-2020 Programme for Government, increasing focus on litter removal alongside litter prevention. This strategy was originally launched in 2014 and has over 40 action points which aim to reduce the amount of litter entering our waters. These cover improving the attitude and behaviour of people and businesses, reducing litter sources, improving how we monitor and respond to the problem, making sure that what we do makes a difference, and working with other countries to tackle this global problem.

The Strategy helps Scotland to meet our obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to achieve good environmental status in our marine waters by 2020, and the requirement that “the properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environments”. 

Central to the strategy is the need for a co-ordinated approach to tackle this problem through partnership working and to influence individuals’ behaviours. A stakeholder Steering Group was set up to support implementation and monitoring of the Strategy which is currently under review and will be published in 2020.

Scotland’s National Marine Plan underpins the strategy and includes marine planning policy to ensure measures are taken to address marine litter. Marine Scotland also sit on the steering group for The Scottish Government's National Litter Strategy. This aims to reduce Scotland’s litter at source on land, in turn reducing the amount of litter which can escape into the marine environment.

The Scottish Government supports many initiatives to reduce the amount of litter entering our seas, and fund organisations which educate members of the public, organise beach litter cleans and promote the safe-disposal of marine litter. Examples include:

  • Supporting KIMO’s Fishing For Litter, which helps fishermen remove and bring ashore litter that they catch in their nets.

  • Supporting KIMO’s ‘Pick Up 3 Pieces’ initiative, which encourages beach visitors to take 3 pieces of litter with them when they leave; and

  • Funding of Local Coastal Partnerships around Scotland’s coastline which all have a role to play in supporting beach cleans and other efforts to reduce marine litter.

  • Supporting SCRAPbook, a collaborative project between the Moray Firth Partnership and Sky Watch to map the litter hot spots round Scotland’s mainland coastline and support their clean-ups. We provide funding for two marine litter officers and an engagement officer, who will support and carry out beach cleans in less accessible areas, guided by SCRAPbook data. 

Marine Litter Research

Marine Scotland Science (MSS) collect a range of marine litter data. Seabed litter is monitored on all MSS vessels which carry out trawling, covering most of Scotland’s seas. Furthermore a statistical analysis of seabed litter is underway which will result in better estimates of the density of seabed litter

Floating micro-plastics in our seas are also monitored by sampling them from the sea surface. In addition sub-tidal marine sediment samples are now also being collected and analysed. Research into analysing micro plastics in sediment and biota (fish stomachs and shellfish) is planned. We also collect already dead fulmars, for stomach content analysis of plastic debris, as fulmars are used as an indicator species with OSPAR.

MSS have co-chaired the MASTS microplastics group and is seeking to invigorate this group to include macro as well as micro plastic. This role is shared with Heriot Watt University which we are supporting to research beach sediment microplastic sampling methodology.  Heriot Watt are also studying toxin absorption by microplastics.