An undeniably trashy trip had an exciting ending as participants in The Governor of Svalbard’s annual cleanup cruise had to flee a beach when a polar bear family waddled nearby.
“They were relatively far away, so we were not really afraid,” Tereza Švecova told NRK. “But it was not long before they were exactly where we had just stood and picked up garbage.”
The mother bear and two cubs forced the dozen participants to abandon cleanup efforts on the final day of the five-day cruise. Solvår Reiten, a pollution and environmental advisor for the governor, told the news agency the animals’ presence means a lot of trash is still on the shore.
“We have not picked the same volume of garbage as in years past, partly because we have been interrupted by polar bears both Thursday and Friday,” he said.
About 30 cubic meters of trash were collected during the five-day cruise, the first of two this month. The second cruise is scheduled to begin Monday.
A record 155 cubic meters of trash was collected in 2013, 89 cubic meters in 2014 and 101 cubic meters in 2015.
Polar bears have disrupted other cleanup cruises since they began in 2000, including one in 2014 that was snagged in a fishnet. It managed to free itself of the net eventually, but the cruises are intended to collect such debris because of the risk it poses to wildlife.
The cruises typically alter their focus between large and small trash every other year. Smaller objects are often consumed by birds and other small animals, often blocking their digestive tracts and passing toxins up the food chain.
Although the cruises have visited most of Spitsbergen’s northern shoreline, they continue returning to previously visited spots because the debris reaccumulates roughly every six years.
Most of the 12 participants in each cruise are picked in a lottery drawing, with two spots auctioned off for charity.