FanpLESStic publication catches attention of Japan, leads to joint webinar on microplastics - Sweden Water Research

FanpLESStic publication catches attention of Japan, leads to joint webinar on microplastics

A webinar on marine microplastic pollution, organized by the Japanese Embassy in Finland and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was held in collaboration with HELCOM on 5 March 2021, with the aim to share knowledge and exchange information between experts on the topic in the Nordic and Baltic States.

The webinar was a direct consequence of the publication of the “Review of existing policies and research related to microplastics – Summary for Policy Makers” (output of FanpLESStic activity 2.1) that had caught the attention of the Embassy of Japan in Finland which then reached out to HELCOM with the collaboration offer.

The Japanese government’s Arctic strategy emphasizes contributions in the scientific field and is focusing on promoting the sharing of expertise in the fields of environment, technology, and sustainable development.

The webinar was opened by the Japanese Ambassador in Finland, followed by an intervention from the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The main part of the webinar was a lecture given by Mr Isobe Atsuhiko, Professor at Kyushu University in Japan entitled “Marine plastic pollution, current status and 50 years after”.

Marine plastic pollution, current status and 50 years after, by Mr Isobe Atsuhiko

In his lecture, Atsuhiko said: “A huge amount of mismanaged plastic wastes leaks into the western North Pacific including East Asian and Southeast Asian seas (e.g., Jambeck et al., 2015, Science) and, thus, these oceans have been recognized as a hotspot of marine plastic pollution in the world’s ocean. In fact, our field surveys evaluated that total particle count of pelagic microplastics averaged in the East Asian seas was 1,720,000 pieces per square km, 16 times greater than in the North Pacific and 27 times greater than in the world oceans (Isobe et al., 2015, Mar. Pollut. Bull).”

“In addition, we found significant concentration of pelagic microplastics even in the Southern Ocean, the most distant ocean from the everyday life (Isobe et al., 2017, Mar. Pollut. Bull). These findings raise concern about the widespread nature of marine plastic pollution, indicating that plastic-free ocean environments are increasing rare.”

“Our numerical forecast in the Pacific Ocean suggested that the weight concentrations of pelagic microplastics around the subtropical convergence zone would increase approximately twofold (fourfold) by 2030 (2060) from the present condition (Isobe et al., 2019, Nature Communications).”

“Unless the amount of mismanaged plastic waste is reduced substantially, marine plastic pollution is likely to proceed to a point of no return, beyond which marine organisms will be harmed, as has been shown in laboratory experiments,” concluded Atsuhiko.

A round of discussion and questions ensued, with the need for further development of harmonized microplastics monitoring methodologies for better comparability of data being particularly highlighted. Also, concerns about the difficulties encountered to validate models applied for tracking microplastic in nature were voiced.

According to Isobe’s research, the waters around East Asia are a hot spot for microplastics. In addition, what happens in the East Asian seas will eventually affect the rest of the world oceans. Studies on marine plastic pollution in these areas are therefore important.

Conclusions by Helcom

The HELCOM Executive Secretary, Mr Rüdiger Strempel, provided concluding remarks on the work HELCOM is currently engaged in to tackle marine litter including microplastics, from monitoring activities to the implementation of actions addressing land- and sea-based sources of marine litter. He particularly lauded the FanpLESStic-sea project as a platform to increase the knowledge about microplastics in the region.

Attendees to the webinar included representatives from the Japanese Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HELCOM Secretariat, HELCOM Expert Network on Marine Litter as well as colleagues from the FanpLESStic project partnership.

Professor Isobe’s biography

Mr. Isobe is a professor at the Research Institute for Applied Mechanics, in Kyushu University. Being a physical oceanographer, he is currently working as the principal investigator of multiple microplastic research projects granted by the Ministry of Environment, Japan, and JICS/JCT. His field of expertise is on oceanography, marine plastic pollution, numerical modelling of oceanic microplastics as well as monitoring of oceanic microplastics. His last five articles on ocean microplastics are cited within top-5 % in SCOPUS. The latest article regarding future abundance of oceanic microplastics was published in Nature Communications in January 2019. He was awarded the Minister’s prize in 2018 from the Ministry of Environment and the Prime Minister’s prize in 2019 for his microplastic research activities.