Marine Anthropogenic Litter

pp 429-447

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The Contribution of Citizen Scientists to the Monitoring of Marine Litter

  • Valeria Hidalgo-RuzAffiliated withFacultad Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte
  • , Martin ThielAffiliated withFacultad Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del NorteMillennium Nucleus Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Island (ESMOI)Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA) Email author 


Citizen science projects are based on volunteer participation of untrained citizens who contribute information, data and samples to scientific studies. Herein we provide an overview of marine litter studies that have been supported by citizen scientists (n = 40) and compare these studies with selected studies conducted by professional scientists (n = 40). Citizen science studies have mainly focused on the distribution and composition of marine litter in the intertidal zone. Studies extended over regional, national and international scales, with time periods generally extending from less than one year to two years. Professional studies have also examined the distribution and composition of marine litter, but from intertidal, subtidal and pelagic zones, with some focusing exclusively on microplastics. These studies have been conducted over local, regional and international scales, usually for less than one year each. Both citizen science and professional studies on marine litter have been conducted mainly in the northern hemisphere, revealing a lack of information available on coastal regions of the southern hemisphere. A main concern of citizen science studies is the reliability of the collected information, which is why many studies include steps to ensure data quality, such as preparation of clear protocols, training of volunteers, in situ supervision by professional scientists, and revision of samples and data. The results of this comparative review confirm that citizen science can be a useful approach to increase the available information on marine litter sources, distribution and ecological impacts. Future studies should strive to incorporate additional citizen scientists who frequent marine environments, for instance, divers and sailors, to improve our understanding of marine litter dynamics.


Citizen science Marine litter Professional studies Volunteers Data quality