The marine environment faces a lot of problems and dangers. Pollution, especially in the shape of plastic litter, is one of the main issues, also in the Arctic. The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators AECO now takes a stand against this threat: Armed with €300’000 in funding, backing from the UN and thousands of volunteers, AECO will work to drastically cut back on single-use plastics on its member vessels, as well as enhance cruise passengers’ involvement in regular beach cleanup. All of this is part of the UN Environment Clean Seas campaign.

Plastic litter in the Arctic is enormous problem. Mostly, it is washed ashore and stays there to be degraded into tiny little pieces which then end up in the food chain and accumulate in top predators like polar bears. Credit: Ilja Lang, AECO
Plastic litter in the Arctic is enormous problem. Mostly, it is washed ashore and stays there to be degraded into tiny little pieces which then end up in the food chain and accumulate in top predators like polar bears. Credit: Ilja Lang, AECO

Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund has recently decided to support the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators’ (AECO) efforts with NOK 1.8 million. Earlier this month, the association was granted NOK 634,000 from the Norwegian Environmental Directorate to enhance ongoing efforts to facilitate beach cleanups in Svalbard by expedition cruise passengers and crew. AECO’s decision to initiate this project was sparked by a letter from UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim inviting the association to join the #CleanSeas initiative, a UN-led campaign to combat marine plastic pollution. AECO is also working with International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) on this project, as many of the planned measures may be applied to expedition cruise ships in Antarctica as well as the Arctic. Members of AECO have been involved in beach cleanings in the Arctic for over almost two decades, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Having secured external funding, AECO will step up the association’s environmental efforts by hiring an Environmental Agent. The new team member will be responsible for AECO’s involvement in the Clean Seas Campaign, as well as coordinate beach cleaning efforts. Focus areas will be education, developing and sharing best practices, as well as logistics around beach cleanups.

Passengers on expedition cruise vessels regularly clean up beaches during their visits to the Arctic. Operators now will invest into educating passengers about the extent and effects of plastic pollution in the Arctic. Credit: Josef Wermelinger
Passengers on expedition cruise vessels regularly clean up beaches during their visits to the Arctic. Operators now will invest into educating passengers about the extent and effects of plastic pollution in the Arctic. Credit: Josef Wermelinger

AECO’s Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen is extremely satisfied and happy with the received funding and says that it will make it possible for the expedition cruise industry to make a big contribution in the fight to combat marine plastic litter. One of AECO’s contributions to the Clean Seas Campaign will be to take actions to reduce the use of disposable plastic products. “Clean oceans are an issue that our members are extremely passionate about. For years, the Arctic expedition cruise industry has involved thousands of passengers in volunteering to pick garbage when they go on landings. As part of this new project, we will examine the whole value chain to reduce the risk of plastic finding its way to into our oceans in the first place. Our members would like to be part of the solution, and that involves finding alternatives to disposable plastic products on their ships,” says Jørgensen. She also says that the expedition cruise industry would like to set an example of how the tourism industry can contribute to sustainable development. “We have just signed a memorandum of understanding with UN Environment to formalize our cooperation. The plan is to work with the UN Clean Seas Campaign to develop information material targeted at staff and passengers. Our ambition is to change people’s attitude towards disposable plastics. We want to show people that there are good alternatives to things like plastic straws and plastic packaging. It’s not too late to tackle the issue of plastic marine debris, but we have to act now.” says Jørgensen.

Not only small plastic debris in the food chain is a danger for animals. Large pieces of plastic nets drifting in the oceans pose a considerable threat for marine animals and terrestrial animals like reindeer when they get entangled and immobilized. Credit: Elin Lien / Sysselmannen
Not only small plastic debris in the food chain is a danger for animals. Large pieces of plastic nets drifting in the oceans pose a considerable threat for marine animals and terrestrial animals like reindeer when they get entangled and immobilized. Credit: Elin Lien / Sysselmannen

Source: Edda Falk, AECO