New online portal LITTERBASE compiles all data in one location
Where is litter at sea and which species and habitats does it affect? For the first time, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) have compiled all published scientific data in a comprehensive database at an online portal called LITTERBASE.
At www.litterbase.org, the scientists highlight the distribution of marine litter and its effects on organisms in global maps. In addition, the graphic evaluations are updated regularly, showing how seabirds and fish are affected by marine litter.
Currently, it has been discovered that 34 percent of organisms studied have consumed litter, 31 percent live on or in it, and 30 percent are entangled in litter (data as at 23rd March 2017). The number of studies is constantly increasing, and currently stands at 1,221. As the database is updated, the number will change.
“In LITTERBASE, we have for the first time analysed all the groups of organisms studied in connection with marine litter and presented them in a map,” said AWI's Dr Melanie Bergmann in German. Having studied litter in the deep sea for years, the biologist worked with Dr Lars Gutow and Mine Tekman to develop LITTERBASE. The team was motivated to develop the portal because previous summaries of scientific data were sometimes not considered because different research groups measured the data differently.
“Our global maps also show data in different units, but we have also introduced a criterion, so units can be filtered separately. For the first time, this makes it easy to compare the values of the same unit of waste in different regions or habitats,” explained Dr Gutow in German. “At the same time, LITTERBASE also has an enormous scientific value. Our database can enable us to analyse and better understand the global volume and distribution patterns of garbage in the oceans.”
Dr Bergmann explained that the maps documented where scientists have found litter. “This information is also very important to show where there is more research. For example, the global map indicates that there have been numerous studies in the Mediterranean, indicating that this is probably one of the most heavily congested regions. For Africa, the open seas, or the Dead Sea, however, little or no studies are available so far, so little is known about the litter in large areas of the oceans.”
Dr Gutow, Tekman and Dr Bergmann were surprised that, in their literature search, marine waste was described everywhere: “Many of these findings are partly hidden in publications, which are not really about litter, but about the coral gardens of the Mediterranean or other anthropogenic influences at the seafloor like fishing,” said the AWI researchers. As Melanie Bergmann explained, “In my literary research for LITTERBASE, I came across a wealth of old data on litter in the Antarctic, which the Antarctic Treaty states regularly collected. In addition, in the 1980s, the consumption of microplastics at the start of the food chain was investigated in the midst of research into different plankton groups and single-celled organisms. LITTERBASE thus also brings back “old”, partially forgotten knowledge to light.”
Further information: www.litterbase.org