Ten volunteers report their personal experiences from their fight against marine pollution in Norway. In 2023 they have all lived on a sailboat for months and at this stage of their lives they have devoted themselves completely to the fight against marine litter.

By dividing the Norwegian coast into sectors, they moved from area to area to be able to pick tons of plastic. The organization ”In The Same Boat” was founded in 2017. Ever since the volunteers cleared more than 1250 tons of plastic, operating six out of seven days a week.

In voice recordings Almog Avraham (Israel), Sandy Bode (Germany), Lora Constable (UK), Lisa Eberhard (Germany), Dorian Le Boulc’h (France), Kareni Lowes (UK), Alexandra Remouchamps (Belgium), Anna Schuitmaker (Netherlands), Katie Sutter (Canada) and Sam Weaver (UK) echo what they witnessed. They reflect on how they individually perceived their surroundings.

The footage unfolds how the crew coped with all the framework conditions: The actual extent of littering in northern ecosystems; The fear of coming too close (as soon as you get too close, every shore could turn into a bank of rubbish within seconds); The infinite amount of foreign bodies getting stuck in the tender arms of the rugged coasts of the north, the blue expanses, the water and the home of ours. 



Since 1993 World Water Day has been celebrated annually on March 22nd to raise awareness about the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The aim of this year’s theme is to encourage people to think about the true value of water beyond its economic value.

It will also serve as an opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges the world’s water resources face such as water pollution, climate change and unsustainable water management practices.

Water has cultural, social and environmental significance and it is essential for the well-being of humans and ecosystems. Life on earth would not be possible without it. Plants, animals and people need water to grow and thrive. The largest habitat on earth consists of water. More than 70% of earth’s surface is covered by oceans. Human activity is harming the habitat of billions of marine creatures. Beaches, lakes and river banks are turning into rubbish dumps. The sea is heavily used for shipping, fishing, oil and gas exploration and production chains, which contribute to the accumulation of plastic waste in the water.

‘‘The ocean is a symbol of freedom, opportunity and adventure. But it’s also a reminder of our responsibility to protect the planet we call home. Every piece of marine litter we prevent from entering the ocean is a victory for the environment and future generations.’’ Erik Solheim, Head of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Photo by Martha Steinmetz.

The occurrence of plastic in the marine environment was noted already 40 years ago by Carpenter et al. (1972) and Colton et al. (1974), who found foreign bodies in fish guts and surface plankton samples.

Plastic pollution poses a significant environmental threat being more persistent in nature than most other types of marine litter (Strand et al., 2015). Global plastic production has increased rapidly for the past several decades: It is estimated to become as high as 33 billion tons in 2050, and less than half of it is delivered to landfills or recycled (Rochman et al., 2013). Every year, about 8 million tons of marine litter are flushed into the oceans from coastal nations.

Marine litter refers to any type of human-made solid waste that is deliberately or accidentally discharged into the ocean or other bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. This waste can include plastic, metal, glass, rubber, textiles and other persistent, manufactured or processed solid materials (Aniansson et al., 2007; Cheshire & Adler, 2009; Galgani et al., 2010; United Nations Environment Programme, 2005). Approximately 80% of marine litter originates from land-based sources. A smaller proportion arises from ocean-based sources such as fisheries, aquaculture and commercial cruises or private ships. Materials can get lost during production, transport, uses and disposal.

Plastic waste has become ubiquitous in all marine compartments, occurring on beaches, on the seabed, within sediments, in the water column and floating on the sea surface (Gallo et al., 2018).

Quantifying only floating plastic debris in the open ocean seriously underestimates the amount of plastics in the oceans and only represents a fraction (Andrady, 2011).

Over two-thirds of plastic litter ends up on the seabed, with half of the remainder washed up in beaches and the other half floating on or under the surface.

Microplastics have been found in many parts of the world’s oceans, including in the Arctic and are considered a global environmental issue (Machado et al., 2018). Photo by Martha Steinmetz.

Microplastic is a term used to describe very small pieces of plastic, which are typically less than 5 millimeters in size. They are formed when larger plastic items are broken down or are created during the manufacturing process of microbeads. Microplastics are ubiquitous across all global marine environmental compartments and can be mistaken for food by marine animals, which leads to injury or death. Additionally, microplastics can release harmful chemicals and pollutants into the water, which negatively affects the health of marine ecosystems and has only begun to be recognised and studied (Aniansson et al. 2007; Rochman et al. 2013).

‘‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’’ – Robert Swan
This quote highlights the importance of taking personal responsibility. It reminds us that if we all contribute to reduce marine litter and take care of our planet, we can make a significant difference in preserving our oceans and protecting marine life. Photo by Martha Steinmetz.

Overall, there is no doubt that reducing plastic waste is absolutely necessary to protect the environment and marine life in the North Sea and beyond. Although some efforts are already being made to combat plastic pollution, there is an urgent need for action, particularly regarding the production and use of plastics. Many countries lack efficient collection schemes and proper waste management facilities to prevent careless or unintentional littering (Gallo et al., 2018).

Countries around the North Sea have adopted measures to reduce the use of single-use plastics such as plastic bag bans and marine litter prevention plans. Preventing marine litter requires a collective effort from individuals, governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In The Same Boat, for example, is fully dedicated to environmental protection. The NGO uses its funds and resources only for beach cleaning to protect the health of the northern waters and all organisms inhabiting them. As they are politically independent, they currently receive no government funding. Their entire structure is run ‘‘non-profit.’’ In The Same Boat has cleared more than 1250 tons of plastic from Norway’s coastline since 2017. The clean-up crews live on sailboats, taking advantage from mobile operating bases located in Westland, Nordland and Finnmark.

I’d like to dedicate a special thanks to all of the tireless volunteers who have lent their voices to the ocean, and have never questioned their mission to clean up Norway’s coastal landscapes: Almog Avraham, Sandy Bode, Lora Constable, Lisa Eberhard, Dorian Le Boulc’h, Kareni Lowes, Alexandra Remouchamps, Anna Schuitmaker, Katie Sutter and Sam Weaver. And of course thank you to In The Same Boat for making all of this possible in the first place and facing those challenges every single day again.

For related resources, please see:

Andrady A (2011) Microplastics in the marine environment. Mar Pollut Bull 62(8):1596–1605

Aniansson B. et al. 2007. OSPAR Pilot Project on Monitoring Marine Beach Litter.
Monitoring of marine litter in the OSPAR region. Biodiversity Series.

Carpenter, E. J., Anderson, S. J., Harvey, G. R., Miklas, H. P., & Peck, B. B. (1972).
Polystyrene Spherules in Coastal Waters. Science, 178(4062), 749–750.

Cheshire A., & Adler E. 2009. UNEP/IOC Guidelines on Survey and Monitoring of Ma- rine
Litter. Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 186 IOC Technical Series No. 83.

Colton, J. B., Burns, B. R., & Knapp, F. D. (1974). Plastic Particles in Surface Waters of the
Northwestern Atlantic. Science, 185(4150), 491–497.

Galgani F., Fleet D., van Franeker J., et al. 2010. Marine Strategy Framework Directive Task
Group 10 Report Marine litter, JRC Scientific and Technical Report, ICES/JRC/ IFREMER
Joint Report (No. 31210–2009/2010), Ed. by N. Zampoukas. 57 pp.

Gallo, F., Fossi, C., Weber, R., Santillo, D., Sousa, J., Ingram, I., Nadal, A., & Romano, D.
(2018). Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemicals components: The
need for urgent preventive measures. Environmental Sciences Europe, 30(1), 13.

Machado AAS, Lau CW, Till J, Kloas W, Lehmann A, Becker R, Rillig MC. 2018b. Impacts of
microplastics on the soil biophysical environment. Environmental Science & Technology
52(17): 9656-9665.

Rochman, C. M., Browne, M. A., Halpern, et al. (2013). Policy: Classify plastic waste as
hazardous. Nature, 494(7436), 169–71.

Strand, J., Tairova, Z., Danielsen, J., Hansen, J. W., Magnusson, K., Naustvoll, L.-J., &
Sørensen, T. K. (2015). Marine Litter in Nordic waters. Nordisk Ministerråd. http://urn.kb.se/

United Nations Environment Programme. (2005). Marine Litter An analytic overview. Marine Litter. https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/working-

About the Author: Martha Steinmetz

In addition to her Fine Art studies at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Martha holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology (B.Sc.). She is interested in exploring phenomena in the context of environmental issues such as system justification, cognitive dissonance and resistance to change. Her enthusiasm for the fight against marine pollution is constantly fueled by an intense engagement with the Arctic region. Having sailed across Arctic Norway with In The Same Boat to take part in several clean-up operations, she is highly motivated to help save the oceans from debris that poses a threat to humans and wildlife.

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