Winning the “trash lottery” so you can be Svalbard’s version of a “sanitation engineer” is awesome. Getting a big prize is more of a mixed blessing.
Twenty-four winners of a drawing involving more than 200 people cleared a total of 101 cubic meters of garbage from the shores of north Spitsbergen during the annual cleanup cruise hosted by The Governor of Svalbard.
“Most of it is plastic garbage from the fishing industry such as nets, ropes, trawl balls and strapping,” wrote Solvår Reiten, an advisor for the governor’s environmental department, in a summary of the eight-day trip that ended Monday. “Plastic garbage drifts with the currents and can cause major damage to bird and animal life in Svalbard. Reindeer can get their antlers trapped in net scraps, and plastic particles in the stomaches of fish and birds can block their nutrient intake.”
While the cruises, now in their 16th year, are rewarding for participants because of the experience and environmental benefit, there’s a downside to scoring such large hauls at previously-visited sites.
“It takes an average of six years from when a beach is cleaned to when the pollution has reached the same level again,” Reiten wrote.
The cleanup volunteers worked in two teams for half of the expedition, with a shift change by helicopter at the midpoint. The collected garbage is being sent to the mainland for incineration.
This year’s total haul is far below the record of 155 cubic meters collected in 2013 and the 154 cubic meters collected in 2012, but above the 90 cubic meters collected during last year’s expedition, which was temporarily disrupted when the volunteers encountered a polar bear snagged in a fishing net that it eventually freed itself from.
Arild Lyssand, a police chief lieutenant for the governor and a leader on seven such expeditions, told Svalbardposten some of this year’s scheduled cleanup time had to be cut short due to poor weather.