Session Chairs: Francoise Claro, Museum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN); Christina Fossi, Siena University; Denise Hardesty, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

This session focuses on monitoring opportunities and challenges for major marine taxa from the view of using marine fauna as ecological indicators of ocean and ecosystem health.

Monitoring the effects of marine litter in marine organisms is useful for the conservation of the marine environment as well as to understand the impact of marine litter on populations. Furthermore, it provides data to inform national or regional policies and can provide an important baseline for the establishment of new monitoring programs. However the feasibility of monitoring may be subjected to constraints such as the appropriate methodology, logistics, sanitation, regulations, etc., all of which may hinder the development and implementation of a monitoring program.

Because of their size and geographic distribution, and due to the preexistence of dedicated observation networks (stranding and rescue of marine mammals and turtles, fisheries observer campaigns etc.), several marine megafauna taxa are already used as ecological indicators of ecosystem health. Ingestion and entanglement are the most frequently observed types of interactions between anthropogenic debris and marine vertebrates. In addition to seabirds, sea turtles, are also good indicator species for monitoring the impact of litter ingestion, and there are several methods available for understanding the interactions between sea turtles and litter. In other cases, in particular cetaceans and sharks, research is ongoing or needed, in order to monitor and describe the direct (pathology, mortality) and indirect (physiological, ecotoxicological…) impact of interactions between these species and litter.

The technical session objectives are to: share lessons learned from existing monitoring initiatives at national and regional scales; share the results of recent research (new methods, evaluation of the exposure to litter, occurrence and effects of micro- and nano-scale plastics); discuss methods, indicators and technical tools (such as training), standardization and possible cooperation; identify knowledge gaps and tools required to understand the impact of anthropogenic debris on major marine taxa, identify practical recommendations to fulfill these gaps.




Which marine debris do the Mediterranean megafauna prefer?

presenting: Matteo Baini (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena, Italy); authors: Matteo Baini (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena, Italy), Matteo Galli (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena), Cristina Pedà (ISPRA, Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Laboratory of Milazzo), Ilaria Bernardini (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena), Teresa Romeo (ISPRA, Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Laboratory of Milazzo), Cecilia Mancusi (ARPAT, Environmental Protection Agency of Tuscany Region), Fulvio Garibaldi (Department of Earth, Environment and Life Sciences, University of Genoa), Michela Podestà (Museum of Natural History of Milan), Cristina Panti (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena), Maria Cristina Fossi (Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Siena)

Marine debris can harm biodiversity in different ways, ingestion is one of the most noxious impact on marine organisms and it has been documented in highly polluted areas such as the Mediterranean Sea. However, the published data are not collected homogeneously and this makes it difficult to make a comparison among different species and studies. The objective of this study is to implement and apply a standardized protocol for the quantification and characterization of marine debris in five Mediterranean megafauna species to properly evaluate the rate of marine debris ingestion and to obtain information about the sources of ingested debris. Gastro intestinal content of 85 bluefin tunas (Thynnus thynnus), 84 swordfishs (Xiphias gladius), 95 blue sharks (Prionace glauca), 76 loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and 13 sperm whales (Physeter microcephalus) were sampled along the Italian coast. GI tract were examined for the analysis of ingested marine debris following the MSFD Descriptor 10 standard protocol developed for sea turtles. An additional analysis was performed to better understand the composition and origin of the debris ingested, using Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy technique. Marine debris was found in all the five species with a percentage of occurrence ranging from 9.5% in swordfish to 76.9% in sperm whale. The characterization and the polymers analysis provide useful information about the sources of marine debris. The polyethylene and polypropylene sheet like user plastics, widely used as packaging material, are the most ingested debris in all species investigated. The results achieved constitutes an important advancement in the knowledge of this issue in the Mediterranean Sea and provide the background information for future mitigation measures.


Oceanic manta rays and plastic pollution in the Mexican Pacific Ocean.

presenting: Tania Pelamatti (CICIMAR-IPN, Mexico); authors: Tania Pelamatti (CICIMAR-IPN, Mexico), Edgar Mauricio Hoyos Padilla (Pelagios Kakunjá), Lorena M. Rios Mendoza (University of Wisconsin Superior), Iliana Araceli Fonseca Ponce (), Felipe Galván Magaña (CICIMAR-IPN)

The oceanic manta rays, Mobula birostris, filter big volumes of water while feeding on zooplankton. Thus, they are potentially exposed to the growing threat of plastic pollution. Ingested plastics can leach adsorbed toxic pollutants and plastic additives (e.g. phthalates, used as indicators of plastic contamination in animal tissues) that are recognized as endocrine disruptors and toxic for many species. The oceanic manta ray populations of the Gulf of California have been drastically reduced in recent decades, making the Revillagigedo Archipelago and Banderas Bay its last refuge and aggregation areas in the Mexican Pacific Ocean. Samples have been collected from the sea surface using a manta net: floating plastics were found in both areas, we determined the size and polymer composition of the plastic debris through Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). Small tissue samples (skin and muscle biopsies) of manta rays have been collected during scuba and freediving using a spear pole and will undergo chemical extraction and subsequent analysis to measure the concentration of phthalates. Chemical analysis of these plastics collected in the area has been carried on to quantify polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that were adsorbed on the surface of plastic debris. Measuring phthalates in manta ray biopsies is a valid non-lethal method to investigate possible plastic ingestion occurrence in this species, that is considered vulnerable to extinction by IUCN and protected in Mexico. This research is a baseline study for plastic debris contamination in the area and for possible ingestion by oceanic manta rays.


Is Entanglement a relevant indicator of the impact of marine litter on biota ? The contribution of INDICIT european project.

presenting: Francoise Claro (MUSEUM NATIONAL D HISTOIRE NATURELLE, ); authors: Francoise Claro (MUSEUM NATIONAL D HISTOIRE NATURELLE, France), Christopher PHAM (Institute of Marine Research and MARE-Marine and Environmental Science Centre), Jesus TOMAS (9. Marine Zoology Unit, Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, University of Valencia), ANA LIRIA LOZA (7. I. ECOAQUA – University of Gran Canaria)

Marine litter is known to impact biota mainly through ingestion and entanglement. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) of the EU has included a specific descriptor on marine litter (descriptor 10) for achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020. Although an indicator of debris ingestion is already being developed/considered by the EU and two Regional sea conventions (RSCs), no indicator related to entanglement has been proposed to date for long-term monitoring programs in the framework of environmental policies. In order to evaluate the relevance of a new indicator, the European project INDICIT (« Indicator Impact Turtle », EU project 11.0661/2016/748064/SUB/ENV.C2 ; https:// included as an aim a review and a feasibility study on “Entanglement with debris by marine biota” at the project area scale. Targeted species were evaluated and the feasibility of implementing an entanglement indicator was assessed through a survey involving stranding/rescue networks, biologists and field naturalists. Cetaceans, sea birds, marine turtles, sharks but also benthic invertebrates were tested as indicator species. The main constraint for using vertebrates was linked to the difficulty to distinguish entanglement caused by active gears or by ghost fishing gears. The use of benthic invertebrates as a potential indicator of interactions between marine organisms and litter, monitored through Remotely Operated Vehicles, is also discussed.


Entanglements and Ingestion of Marine Debris of Marine Mammals in South Carolina, USA

presenting: Wayne McFee (NOAA/National Ocean Service, United States); authors: Wayne McFee (NOAA/National Ocean Service, United States), Tiffany Humphrey (Coastal Carolina University)

Entanglements in and ingestion of marine debris in marine mammals occurs in nearly all species worldwide though the extent is unknown. Further, the impact at the population level is inhibited because of inconsistent record keeping from various marine mammal stranding networks, inadequate population assessments of many species, and difficulties in discerning abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) from actively fished gear. A 25 year monitoring effort in South Carolina of strandings and photo-identification studies has provided good baseline data on the occurrence of marine debris entanglements and ingestion in marine mammals, particularly bottlenose dolphins, pygmy sperm whales, and beaked whales. Most entanglements involve rope/line or monofilament line in bottlenose dolphins and are more common than ingestion, though incidents of marine debris interaction appear to be low (2.7% occurrence). Ingestion of marine debris appears to be more common in pelagic species such as the pygmy sperm whale (7.6% occurrence) and is likely far greater than reported. Difficulties in assessing the impacts of marine debris on marine mammal populations will be discussed using current research on marine debris occurrence in cetaceans in South Carolina.


Looking without landing – using Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) and citizen science to monitor the prevalence of marine debris entanglements in fur seals

presenting: Rebecca McIntosh (Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia); authors: Rebecca McIntosh (Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia), Ross Holmberg (Phillip Island Nature Parks), Peter Dann (Phillip Island Nature Parks)

Marine debris is causing large-scale ecosystem impacts across global oceans and has triggered significant mitigation measures. Macro-debris entangles wildlife and alters habitats, breaking down into ever smaller particles that enter the food chain with potentially devastating follow-on effects. Fur seals provide an excellent species for research of marine debris, because they breed and rest on land where they can be observed.

Reliable data are vital to understanding the impacts of marine debris. At Seal Rocks, Victoria, we have identified 441 individual entanglements of Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus), from Dec 1997-Sept 2017 and removed 50% of those entanglements. However, these data underestimate the scale of the problem because landing at Seal Rocks causes the fur seals to flee into the water, preventing accurate estimates of prevalence and reliable trend analyses.

Using Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA), we can obtain data with greater precision and accuracy than ground-based methods to determine the prevalence of marine debris entanglements in fur seals. With appropriate testing and ethical consideration; for many situations, RPAs can also perform surveys with increased frequency and less disturbance than typical methods, improving the robustness of the datasets, and decreasing negative impacts on the animals.

In this talk we demonstrate that RPAs provide higher, more accurate and more precise prevalence counts for marine debris entanglement in fur seals than traditional ground-based methods. We also outline a web-based portal through which citizen scientists are recruited to count fur seals, providing replicate counts as well as an opportunity to inspire and educate global citizens.


The effect of Marine Litter on the Mediterranean Marine Biota: the development of a monitoring strategy for IMAP Candidate Indicator 24

Presenting: Francois Galgani (IFREMER, France); Authors: Christos Ioakeimidis (UN Environment, Greece), Lobna Ben Nakhla (2 Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC)), Christos Ioakeimidis (UN Environment/Mediterranean Action Plan), Khalil Att (Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (SPA/RAC))

In the Mediterranean, marine litter poses a critical problem because of its great quantity and effects on marine fauna. To deal with this problem, the UN Environment/Mediterranean Action Plan Barcelona Convention adopted the first ever legally binding Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean. One of the steps identified in the Regional Plan was linked to the implementation of the Integrated monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Mediterranean Sea and Coasts and Related Assessment Criteria (IMAP) and its 10th Ecological Objective i.e. Marine Litter, partly based on the Candidate Indicator 24 “Trends in the amount of litter ingested by or entangling marine organisms focusing on selected mammals, marine birds, and marine turtles”.

Currently, UN Environment/MAP and its Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC), in the framework of the EU-funded Marine Litter MED project are working on this aspect with aim to improve knowledge of on the impact of marine litter on marine fauna and also to develop the IMAP Candidate Indicator 24. This particularly involves the work of selecting the most representative species to be used for the development and assessment of the IMAP Candidate Indicator 24, the development of a specific protocol on monitoring the amount of litter ingested by or entangling the selected species, harmonize methods and data collection, capacity building, assess data to propose GES targets, develop an operational strategy for monitoring the amounts of marine litter ingested by or entangling marine organisms, and create and/or improve a Mediterranean network of institutions on monitoring and exchange of best practices.