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Marine Debris Study, Scotland

Marine Debris Study, Scotland 
Written by: Laura Walker

I am a student at the University of Aberdeen studying for a BSc (Hons) in Marine & Coastal Environmental Science at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. I wanted to tell you about how I have been able to use excellent ArcSSET solution to monitor marine debris.

Context & Justification
Marine debris is a growing global problem which causes pollution harming flora and fauna and adversely affects tourism revenue. The issue is now seen as important by regulatory and governing bodies and legislation is being developed to change how we look after our beaches and other coastal margins. Local authorities spend vast sums of money organising clean-up operations to achieve or retain “Blue Flags” or “Seaside Awards” which in turn attract holiday makers.

I was employed as the first “Beach Warden” at my local seaside award winning beach over the summer a couple of years ago and was shocked by the mass and type of marine debris which had to be removed from the beach. Crisp and sweet bags were the most frequent item, followed closely by plastic bottles and fishing gear but there were also often very hazardous items such as oil tanks and on two occasions I  found undetonated WWII bombs! The community really appreciated my presence but unfortunately budget cuts meant that the council were forced to remove the posts from all of their beaches and haven’t offered any effective solutions since.

The aim of my project is to create a conceptual model to identify areas where litter will accumulate under certain environmental conditions. Knowing where litter will be deposited and where it will aggregate means that authorities can place bins or target volunteer or paid clean-up operations where they will have maximum effect for minimum cost.

To do this I need to see where litter is aggregated after a survey, record descriptive information about it, record environmental conditions and observe how debris moves along the littoral zone.

ArcSSET is an ideal tool to support my work. I tried several other apps for my iPhone but in comparison, they were slow, clumsy and unpleasant to operate. None of them could do everything I needed, so I had to flit between apps to collect the full dataset.


The ArcSSET system allows me to:
• Give each item a unique asset number using the QR tags
• Record descriptive information about the debris including GPS location, debris type, source, manufacturer, barcode/serial#, degradation level, debris length/width and debris status
• Attach Pictures
• Perform GPS location updates, condition assessments and mark items as disposed
• Record the weather
• Sign any updates for security

The key strengths of ArcSSET for this study are:
• Easy to adapt so the user can add new litter types etc. when required
• It is accessible on any smartphone
• It is so user-friendly with simple drop-down menus which allows for efficient data collection
• It has a very accurate GPS
• Top quality support is provided almost instantly
• It is a cloud-based management system so I can access my data from any device
• The online database allows me to amend, assess, manipulate and report data with ease
• The location of assets within the database can be viewed automatically in Google Maps
• Data can be exported/integrated straight to ArcGIS which will be very important for illustrating my findings

I am undertaking this project in one specific area but if it is successful then it is hoped that the adaptability, accessibility and efficiency of ArcSSET could mean that this method could be applied in any setting world-wide. The functionality of the system would even allow local authorities to share their data within a single database to track items which may move across the boundary from one county to another.

ArcSSET has transformed my project from something that was going to be highly labour intensive and frustrating to smooth, organized and efficient. ArcSSET could really be the key tool to help us clean up our beaches and oceans making the world a healthier, more biologically diverse and sustainable place to live.


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