Occurrence, Prevalence, and Classification of Fishing Related Marine Debris in Iceland’s Westfjords

On Friday, September 6 at 9:00, Amy Elizabeth O’Rourke will defend her master ‘s thesis in Coastal and Marine Management. Her thesis is titled, “Occurrence, Prevalence, and Classification of Fishing Related Marine Debris in Iceland’s Westfjords.” The thesis presentation takes place at the University Centre of the Westfjords and is open to the public.

The thesis advisor is Georg Haney, Environmental Scientist at Icelands Marine and Freshwater Research Institute branch in Ísafjörður. The external reader is Dr. Marthe Larsen Haarr, Marine Biologist at SALT consultant company in Lofoten Norway.


Over the past few decades, Western attitudes and values have generally been trending towards greater protection of terrestrial and aquatic environments. A topic increasingly attracting government, media, and public attention—and the present study’s focus—is accumulation of human garbage in the ocean. Such refuse, much of which stems from global fishing industries, can harm aquatic flora and fauna, either directly (e.g., choking, entanglement) or by entering the food chain or leaching toxic compounds into the ecosystem. Before this mounting concern can be halted, researchers must first find out a) which sorts of debris are most common and b) which sectors produce the most waste. In Iceland, however, these regionally-variable factors have yet to be the focus of extensive academic inquiry. To fill this gap in the literature, this project develops and tests a taxonomy of common marine debris types in the North Atlantic. By counting refuse washed ashore on 6 beaches in Iceland’s Westfjords region, this exploratory study has found that Abandoned, Lost or Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG; namely, floats, ropes, trawl and gill net) constitute the vast majority of fishing related local marine debris, and subsequently classifies debris based on affiliated operations. These findings illuminate problem areas in current waste management and suggests fishing-related materials should be continuously monitored to mitigate the risks they pose to the aquatic environment. Although Iceland has strict waste management protocols for its fisheries, clearly more needs to be done. Future research building on these preliminary findings should more thoroughly unravel how fishing-related refuse becomes marine debris. The findings of such research could further identify specific fishing (and other) operations at high-risk for producing marine debris, and, thus, inform future management.

Amy Elizabeth O’Rourke defends her thesis on Marine Debris in Iceland's Westfjords.