Researchers set sail to free the sea of rubbish

Last summer it was time to set off from the landing stage in Smögen and head for Visby and Almedalen. Martin Hasselöv, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, was on board as Project Manager of the Expedition Skräpfritt Hav (Expedition for a Rubbish-Free Sea), a sampling expedition in the Skagerrak/Kattegat area and southern Baltic. The aim was to study the magnitude of microplastics floating in the sea and communicate this to the decision-makers.

What was the outcome of the Expedition Skräpfritt Hav“It was a truly successful expedition, in terms of both study and communication. The communication side of the work was of course a campaign divided into two parts, one of which was targeted at the decision-makers in Almedalen and the other at the broader public later on during West Coast Maritime Week. I think we achieved everything we’d set out to do. We got both the Minister for the Environment and Isabella Lövin to take part in our seminar, and many visitors turned up despite the tough competition to attract attention at Almedalen. There were even representatives from the plastics industry there, and the Minister for the Environment seemed to understand that the government needs to help ensure that producers assume greater responsibility. Beach cleaning is a big problem today for the Bohuslän coastal municipalities that have to take care of all the rubbish.

The expedition attracted a lot of media attention.  How do you feel that went?

“Our media communication went ever so well. We got our information out via lots of channels ranging from local papers to regional radio and the national press, as well as themed journals. I took part in radio broadcasts myself on a number of occasions. I was interviewed on Radio Gotland together with Allan Larsson, formerly Minister of Finance as part of a Social Democrat government, who nowadays is involved in issues relating to the Baltic. We spoke about the environment in the morning broadcast, and it transpired that many of those who then turned up at the seminar in Almedalen had heard us on that. I also took part in the live broadcasts made by Radio Väst and Radio Gothenburg. It is of course important that the research will be of use in society. It can also benefit us personally as researchers as our results become more widely known, which can create a ripple effect.”

What significance has Expedition Skräpfritt Hav had in purely practical terms for the coastal municipalities?

“The municipalities received a great deal of attention at both local and national level, but actually those living in Bohuslän also learned the extent to which the sea and their beaches were being littered with plastics.” In purely practical terms, the expedition may have helped clinch the fact that Clean Bohuslän Coast were given funding of SEK 1.9 million from the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).

The expedition Skräpfritt Hav

The expedition was organised jointly with the West Coast Municipalities, KIMO Sweden (Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation), the Clean Bohuslän Coast Project and the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment. In the autumn, Martin Hasselöv's microplastics project was granted just over SEK 7 million from FORMAS.