EU Science Hub

New app helps scientists map riverine litter entering European seas

Since September, the experts use the tablet computer application developed by the JRC to have visual observations recorded in data files.
Oct 27 2016

A JRC-run project and a dedicated application are bringing together scientists from across the EU and its neighbourhood to monitor and map litter floating from rivers into the seas.

The observation activity supports the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the EU's policy framework for the protection of the marine environment which aims to achieve good environmental status of the EU's marine waters by 2020. Although the work has already started, stakeholders are encouraged to join the network and monitor their own areas of concern.

Participating scientists, coming from government and non-governmental bodies within and beyond the EU, are members of the Floating Litter Observation Network. The network was set up within the JRC-run Riverine and Marine floating macro litter Monitoring and Modelling of Environmental Loading (RIMMEL) project, to carry out the first-ever European-scale quantification of floating litter loads that end up in European seas.

Since September 2016, the experts use the tablet computer application developed by the JRC to have visual observations recorded in data files, using a commonly agreed list of litter items and size ranges. To date, 51 rivers have been registered for observation by the network, in countries sharing marine basins with the EU. The river monitoring activities will continue until autumn 2017.

The JRC recommends short, weekly or bi-weekly surveys (30-60 minutes), depending on availability of resources of the participating organisations. Regular surveys will allow taking into consideration variables such as seasonal fluctuations, rainfall, and holiday periods when litter loads can vary.

Marine litter is a major threat to the marine environment. It can cause harm to fish, marine mammals, reptiles and birds through ingestion and entanglement. Although riverine inputs are recognised to be among the main sources of plastic litter that enters the seas, the quantities of litter input are not known and only few localised efforts have been dedicated to monitor them in the past. This lack of data hinders the prioritisation of measures to reduce the input of plastics and other litter to the marine environment, indicating the urgent need for coordinated actions at EU level.

Members of the expert network monitor sites close to the coast and in estuaries, in order to assess the amount and type of litter inputs that are fed into the marine environment. The results will lead to a better understanding of litter sources and quantities, as well as variability in inflow, thus supporting policymakers in the implementation of efficient countermeasures.

Although the work has started, it is still possible to join the network. Institutions, researchers, competent authorities, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders from both EU and non-EU countries can register at