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African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual

Sustainable Seas Trust and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) published its African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual on 1 July 2020. The goal of this manual is to provide a simple, reliable guide for litter monitoring in Africa and beyond. Particular attention has been given to ensure that methods are scientifically robust, feasible, and reproducible, even with limited resources and experience. Click HERE to open the manual.

The importance of monitoring litter

We are all aware that we are currently facing a huge litter crisis. Litter is being found everywhere on the planet – from remote islands, to the arctic waters and even in the deepest place on Earth – the Mariana trench. It is well known that litter has environmental, social and economic repercussions. In order to effectively deal with this problem, we need to understand how severe the problem is and how we can combat it. That means we need to find out: 1) where are we finding litter, 2) how much and what type of litter is there, 3) where are the hotspots where litter loads are higher, 4) where is the litter coming from on land and at sea, 5) how is the litter transported from its source to the sea and 6) how do the amounts and types of litter change over time?

In order to answer these questions, we need to study and monitor litter loads. By monitoring litter loads over the long-term, we can answer the questions listed above and use that information to guide litter management strategies. Once these strategies have been implemented, continuous monitoring can tell us whether these strategies have been successful in reducing litter, or whether they should be adapted.

A litter monitoring manual from an African perspective

Africa already generates significant amounts of litter, a large portion of which is mismanaged. Litter is expected to increase due to the high population growth rate, rapid economic development, and high urbanization rate in Africa. This means that Africa may be a major polluter of litter to the ocean.

Precise data regarding litter loads, location and composition, as well as the flow from source and the amount of litter entering the sea, are rarely available – especially in Africa. Nearly all data on litter loads in African countries are based on presumed correlations with population size, demographic patterns, socio-economic information and other surrogates, with very few direct measurements made to determine actual values. There is therefore a need to study and monitor litter in Africa, to better understand the litter problem, and guide interventions.

Currently there exists various methods to monitor litter, but these do not consider the African perspective. Because there are so many methods, it is difficult to compare results globally. It is crucial to be able to compare results when developing regional and global strategies to reduced litter. We therefore present a manual that can be used globally to study litter. We have paid special attention to ensure that not only scientists, but also citizens and businesses can follow our methods, with minimal training. We have also accounted for surveyors that may not have many resources to study litter (as is often the case in Africa). Our African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual is therefore written for any interested party, regardless of their resources or level of scientific training.

Thank you to everyone involved in the manual 

The manual was a joint effort that involved various role-players from around Africa. It was edited by SST researcher Toshka Barnardo and CEO Anthony Ribbink and was written by a range of authors including some from SST, University of Cape Town and the University of Mauritius. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) provided financial support for the manual and the monitoring that goes along with it. Our partners in the ongoing WIOMSA Marine Litter Monitoring Programme piloted litter sampling protocols and provided feedback to improve upon them. These partners are Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Kenya; CETAMADA (association for the protection of marine mammals and their habitats), Madagascar; University of Mauritius, Mauritius; Universidade Lúrio & Fisheries Research Institute (IIP), Mozambique; The Ocean Project Seychelles, Seychelles; and Nipe Fagio, Tanzania.

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