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Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Oceans

Goals and Scope

The event assessed the potential of science and technology to address the mounting global plastic challenge. The workshop brought together experts investigating the sources of plastics in the ocean and scientists and engineers focusing on existing and new observation technologies to detect and quantify plastics in the ocean. The outcome includes recommendations to major institutions and funding agencies for future technology initiatives.

Recognising targets for ocean plastic and related indicators, the workshop examined observation techniques and their potential for deployment. Indeed, UN Environment is interested in finding support for their efforts on developing the methodology for monitoring marine debris along with producing some test cases (indicator 14.1.1 “Index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density” of SDG 14). Considering the amount of plastic already present, there is an immediate need to explore downstream solutions for assessing the sources and presence of plastics. Likewise, technologies are urgently needed to detect plastics in the ocean through a range of observation means (underwater, satellite-borne, in situ, ... sensors), to perform quantitative as well as qualitative measurements, and to track the circulation of plastics in the ocean and at the coastal level.

An increasing number of experts and leading societal thinkers see plastic pollution in the ocean and on land as a threat to our future comparable to climate change, land use changes, and species extinction. Science and technology can quantify the extent of plastic pollution and understand the impact of reducing the stock of plastics in the ocean. The workshop delivered recommendations through a technology roadmap.


The workshop brought together social agents engaged in assessing and reducing the impacts of plastics in the ocean with experts assessing the sources of plastics in the ocean and scientists and developers focusing on existing and new observation technologies to detect and quantify plastics in the ocean. The meeting aimed for a joint understanding of the challenge, including the impacts of plastics on life in the ocean and feedback to life on land, including humans, and a common goal to make progress towards addressing the problem. The plastics life-cycle when in the ocean was at the center of the challenge for developing a conceptual model which then was used to look at different socio-economic and environmental scenarios to explore possible futures.

Those interested in participating in the workshop were asked to contact Rene Garello to discuss their contributions to the workshop.

Workshop Outcomes

The main outcomes of the workshop is a draft road map giving recommendations on how to facilitate comprehensive detection and quantitative mapping of amount and impacts of plastics in the oceans and to create the relevant knowledge societal decision and policy makers need to address the challenge posed by plastic to human and non-human life. This road map covers the next five years (2019-2023) and comes with a report sumarizing the workshop deliberations. The road map focuses in particular on the innovations required and feasible to improve the current state-of-the-art in monitoring plastics in the oceans and developing services for data and knowledge sharing. The road map and workshop report are currently being prepared for publication.

The workshop participants were also encouraged to submit manuscripts to the Spring 2019 Theme issue of Earthzine, which is focusing on “Ocean Plastic and Marine Debris;” see the call for manuscripts.


Workshop Program Committee

Summary List of Registered Event Participants

No participants have registered for the event yet as of 07:15, 26th May 2022



The workshop took place on November 26-27, 2018 in Brest, France. The venue was the Pôle Numérique at 305 Avenue Alexis de Rochon, Brest, France.

Travel Logistics

Brest can be easily reached by plane, train or cars. For the transportation from the hotels to the meeting venue, participants were asked to share taxis where possible.


No arrangements were made for accommodation. It was recommended to book a hotel in the center of Brest, using on-line booking services (e.g., booking.com, hotels.com, ...).


Lunch on Monday and Tuesday and dinner on Monday were complementary.

Schedule and Program


Session Description
November 26, 2018

Opening Session

The opening session set the stage for the workshop. After a welcome notes from René Garello, the session featured four keynotes summarizing the knowledge about the origin of plastics in the oceans, the impacts of the plastic on life in the oceans and on land, the observation approaches to detecting and quantifying plastice in the oceans, and options for mitigating the threat of plastics to life in the oceans and on land.

November 26, 2018

Session 1: The Plastics Life Cycle

The session reviewed the life cycle of plastics (including mirco plastics) with the aim of developing a conceptual model that indicates the applications, beneficiaries, as well as key decision and policy makers. The session discussed options for interventions that could impact the plastics that enter the oceans and/or remove plastics from the oceans.

November 26, 2018

Session 2: Detecting and Quantifying Plastics in the Oceans

The session reviewed the current state-of-the art in observations that allow for the detection and mapping of plastics in the oceans, and provide data for quantifying the amount of these plastics in ocean waters, marine life, and ocean sediments. The review covered in situ and remote sensing observations, as well as citizen scientists efforts.

November 26, 2018

Session 3: Improving Observations of Plastics in the Oceans

The session discussed promising innovative developments and concepts that could significantly increase the data available for plastics in the ocean waters, in the coastal zone, in marine life and in recent sediments. The goal of the session was to contribute to a road map for the next five years to ensure that the SDG Indicator 14.1.1 can be quantified with particular focus on plastics.

November 27, 2018

Session 4: Data and Knowledge Sharing in Support of Decision and Policy Making

The goal of this session was the identification of promising activities that could facilitate and ensure the availability of data and knowledge concerning amount, type and impacts of plastics in the oceans for those social agents who are addressing the challenge posed by plastics.

November 27, 2018

Session 5: Road Map

A draft road map was developed based on the outcome of previous sessions that recommends steps towards comprehensive detection and quantitative mapping. This road map covers the time slot up to 2023.

November 27, 2018

Session 6: White Paper on Marine Litter Monitoring

The session discussed the contents of a white paper on marine litter monitoring.

Note: The workshop will be moderated by the members of the Workshop Program Committee.


November 26, 2018

0830 - 0900:Registration and Remote Connection Tests
0900 - 1030:Session 0: Opening Session
0900 - 0915:René Garello: Welcome; Goals of the Workshop (presentation)
0915 - 0935:Hans-Peter Plag: Plastics: A rapidly growing global challenge for Earth's life-support system and humanity (abstract, presentation)
0935 - 0955:Christian Schmidt: Rivers and Plastics in the Oceans (abstract, presentation)
0955 - 1015:Shungudzemwoyo Garaba: Observing plastics in the oceans from orbit/space (abstract, presentation)
1015 - 1035:Jennifer Provencher: Plastic pollution ingestion by marine birds; what we have learned since the 1960s (presentation)
1035 - 1100:Coffee Break
1100 - 1230:Session 1: The Plastics Life Cycle
1100 - 1115:Christophe Maes: Global surface dispersion of marine debris under simple scenario (abstract, presentation)
1115 - 1130:Nils-Roar Hareide: Lost and discarded fishing gear - Technologies and practices for detection and retrieval (abstract, presentation)
1130 - 1145:Risa Sybrandy: Tracking Ghost Nets in the Pacific (abstract, presentation)
1145 - 1230:All:
  • What are the types of plastics and amounts that enter the ocean?
  • How are plastics distributed in space?
  • What are the residence times?
  • What size of plastics have the most impact and why?
  • Does the life cycle depend on the type of plastic?
  • Are plastics correlated with other marine debris?
  • What about plastics and sargasum?
  • What are the essential variables to characterize plastics in the oceans?
  • Which of those are accessible to observations?
1230 - 1400:Lunch Break
1400 - 1600:Session 2: Detecting and Quantifying Plastics in the Oceans
1400 - 1415:Nicolas Longepe: Tracking Marine Litter and plastic pollution in the Ocean with satellite tracking and a multi-year Drift Modeling. (abstract, presentation)
1415 - 1430:Yan Guichoux: Omni-Situ surface currents derived from ship motion (abstract, presentation)
1430 - 1445:Sergio Martinez: ODYSSEA: Data collection on water column (abstract, presentation)
1445 - 1600:All:
  • What technologies are there for observing plastics in the oceans?
  • What can be done from space?
  • Can drones and autonomous (sub)marine vehicles observe plastics?
  • What are the dominant signatures in different weather conditions?
  • How can micro and smaller plastic particles be detected reliably and economically/
  • What can be operational in the near term?
  • What spatial and temporal resolutions are needed for the essential variables to support quantification?
1600 - 1630:Coffee Break
1630 - 1800:Session 3: Improving Observations of Plastics in the Oceans
1630 - 1645:Sanae Chiba: Global Ocean Observation System (GOOS) perspective on marine plastics monitoring (abstract, presentation)
1645 - 1700:Anne Vallette, Manuel Arias, Stefano Alliani, Andres Cozar, Konstantinos Topouzelis, Shungu Garaba, Mark Hennen, Philippe Bryere, Francois-Regis Martin-Lauzer, Craig Jacobs, Antoine Mangin: ESA & Copernicus initiatives to face the Challenges of Marine Litter tracking (abstract, presentation)
1700 - 1715:Olivier Regniers, Aymeric Jouon: “I Clean My Sea” an integrated project to fight against the invasion of plastics in the oceans (abstract, presentation)
1715 - 1800:All:
  • What are promising new appplication of existing technologies such as SAR?
  • Are there insitu sensors that can address microplastics?
  • If plastics have a layer of water on them, what impact on observations does this have?proaches to observing plastics in the oceans?
  • How can uncertainty (or errors) be assigned to observations?
  • How important is real time data?
  • Are there insitu sensors that can address microplastics?
  • If plastics have a layer of water on them, what impact on observations does this have?

November 27, 2018

0900 - 1030:Session 4: Data and Knowledge Sharing in Support of Decision and Policy Making
0900 - 0915:Martin Kramp: Collecting ocean-atmosphere data (including microplastics) from Racing Yachts: Background and latest results (abstract, presentation)
0915 - 0930:Anne Rouault: INTERREG France Channel England: Cooperation and funding opportunities to tackle plastic pollution (abstract, presentation)
0930 - 0945:Rene Garello: Presentation of GEO - Group on Earth Observation (abstract, presentation)
0945 - 1000:Claude Garcia: Using Campanion modeling to address ocean plastics (tentative title; abstract, presentation)
1000 - 1030:All:
  • What knowlegde is needed?
  • How can it be created (data analyses, modeling), and who can create it?
  • What is needed in terms of data collection, data analyses and modeling (see previous sessions)?
  • Are services needed?
  • How can decision and policy makers be linked to knowledge about plastics in the oceans?
  • Could a participatory modeling effort bringing science, earth observations and policy makers together facilitate evidence-based policy making?
1030 - 1100:Coffee Break
1100 - 1230:Session 5: Road Map
1100 - 1230:All: The steps towards comprehensive observations and knowledge services for plastics in the oceans.
  • What state of oberservation, monitoring, and knowledge sharing do we want to reach by 2024?
  • What are the roads to get to this state?
  • What is the timing for each of the steps?
  • What is the feasibility of each step and the maturity of component parts (technology etc)?
  • Are there alternative roads and steps?
  • What does the road map look like?
1230 - 1400:Lunch Break
1400 - 1630:Session 6: Road Map 2: Towards a White Paper on Marine Litter Monitoring
1400 - 1415:Francoise Galgani: Marine Litter within MSFD (presentation)
1415 - 1630:All: Discussion of White Paper contents and collection of input for Road Map

Other Information

This workshop was sponsored by: