Kristine Tofte decided to walk a bit beyond her usual spot on a beach when she came upon an now all-too-familiar story that still shocks those experiencing it for the first time: a coastline more reminiscent of an urban landfill than the pristine environmental “crown jewel” of Norway.
“I found car tires, nets, snuff boxes, food and fish boxes,” she told ABC Nyheter. “Everything you can imagine.”
Tofte, an employee at the Bjørnøya Meteorological Station, joined her colleagues in collecting nearly 400 kilograms of trash along the shore last month, which was then removed by The Governor of Svalbard using its Polarsyssel vessel.
It’s just one of many beach cleanups taking place this summer as both an increasing amount of trash and awareness of the problem is prompting action by public and private entities. Beyond being unsightly, the trash is considered a major threat to marine and land wildlife which both ingests and can be trapped by items ranging from nets to microplastics.
Cleanup projects aren’t new – two groups of 12 local residents selected in a lottery by the governor will spend portions of the next couple of weeks cleaning up trash along the northernmost shores of Svalbard as part of an annual effort that began in 2001. But more are taking place in recent years and, while most are planned ahead of time, the cleanup at Bjørnøya was noteworthy for the size of the effort in a spontaneous and rapid response.
“It is amazing what is being washed up on this little island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean” an entry at the station’s official blog notes. “We have found everything from fishing gear to car tires. Lots of plastic bottles, ropes, whole and parts of boxes, toothpicks, shoes, strips, snuff boxes, styrofoam, helmets, jugs, pipes and much more.”
Removing much of the trash proved difficult due to the rocky coastline.
“Farthest away at Kapp Kjellstrøm it is two kilometers back,” the station’s blog notes. “Then we go over a foundation of rocks, hills and we have to cross Lakselva, which is full of water at this time of year. The biggest things like trawl balls, boxes, large ropes and pots we tied together with rope and picked up by boat. Then we had to use a tractor with a crane to take it out of our boat and up to the governor’s boat.”
Employees at the station collected the 400 kilograms of garbage in just half a day – and Tofte said there still plenty remaining.
Unfortunately there was unfortunately snow in the area when we completed the first action,” she told ABC. “Now that more of the snow is gone we have plans for a new cleaning in the near future.”