Shipwrecks could serve as benchmark for measuring marine litter – Maltese marine archaeologist

Exploratory workshops are organized to explore the innovative idea of ​​using Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) sites to study and investigate marine litter.

These workshops are funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through EEA grants.

The trash seen floating on the surface of the ocean is only 1% of all trash found in the sea.

“If a piece of plastic ends up in the sea, slowly but surely that piece of plastic will sink and eventually drift to deeper waters and disperse,” Professor Timmy Gambin said.

In order to measure the amount of litter found on the seabed, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directives state that the abundance of litter can be estimated by sending remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) into deep waters to survey a area and record the waste that is found.

Gambin thinks the problem with this approach is that it would only record the amount of trash found in that area at that particular time, because the current is constantly moving trash around the ocean. Therefore, this method does not reveal a truly representative sample size to secure data that could be used for analytical and predictive purposes.

However, marine litter has been repeatedly reported at UCH sites. From there, Gambin developed the idea of ​​using UCH sites as benchmarks for the quantification and qualification of deep-sea marine litter.

The sea currents that move the waste are however not strong enough to push the waste past the archaeological site. As a result, these sites can act as a much more focused point to conduct studies and investigate the amount of litter on the seabed.

His argument was that until some form of experimental underwater trap is designed and installed on the seabed for trash found in such deep waters, why not use shipwrecks as criteria for now?

Gambin followed up on this idea by getting in touch with NTNU’s Dr. Oyvind Odegard

University based in Trondheim in Norway, which is one of the best universities in Europe specialized in underwater robotics.

Together they wrote a proposal that was accepted to receive funding from the AEE grants.

With the help of the EEA fund, they were able to obtain the necessary resources to organize two workshops, one in Malta and the other in Norway, with the aim of understanding the relationship between water heritage sites deep and marine litter.

The Malta workshop took place from 16 to 21 May. NTNU staff traveled to Malta and joined members of the Environmental Resources Authority, Planning Authority, Heritage Malta and the University of Malta for the event.

“This first workshop provided the ideal platform for local researchers and members of government agencies to experiment with various approaches used in the field of underwater cultural heritage. The aim is to explore how these can be adapted to help monitor and manage litter at sea. Our partners in Norway provided crucial feedback and input and we look forward to the next workshop in Trondheim, Norway. We are grateful to the EEA for providing the grant that enabled organizing these events,” said Gambin.

The next workshop will take place in Norway where six Maltese, including a member of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, will come up to lead more discussions and learn about the work being done in Norway.

Gambin added that “depending on the results of this workshop, we should have a platform where we will have enough information on which we can decide whether it is worth pursuing or passing on. will essentially give enough information to decide what the next step is”.

Gambin said the next step could be to continue monitoring marine litter locally, start a campaign to donate dive bags to local dive clubs, or seek additional funding to scale up this study and concept.

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