Marine litter

Marine litter is a global problem which poses an increasing threat to human health and safety, ecosystem services and sustainable livelihoods. The Northern Ireland Marine Litter Strategy is a co-ordinated response which aims to address the problem at a local level by reducing the levels of litter entering the sea and removing litter which is already there.


2019 Marine Litter Report

The Marine Litter Report 2019 was published in July 2020. The Report summarises the key findings of quarterly surveys of marine litter found on ten reference beaches around Northern Ireland. The Report notes that an average of 508 items of litter were observed per 100m of beach surveyed during 2019, 78% of the items recorded were made of plastic.

New Marine Online Assessment Tool is now available

The UK have published an update on the state of UK seas. A new Marine Online Assessment Tool has been developed which details our progress towards achieving Good Environmental Status for the different components of the marine environment. Information on marine litter can be found on

British Irish Council holds a Marine Litter Symposium

The British Irish Council held a Marine Litter Symposium on 22 February 2019 at the Strathclyde University Technology and Innovation Centre. The event was hosted by the Scottish Government.

Ministers stressed that marine litter was an issue that needed urgent, concerted and collaborative action at all scales, from local to global.

The British Irish Council Administrations issued a communique which identified three different areas where they could collaborate further to ensure progress These were:

  • establishing a system to facilitate the recycling of end of life fishing gear;
  • co-operative working to further reduce the loss of pre-production plastics across the supply chain; and
  • improving educational materials and modules on marine litter for young people and the fishing industry.

A copy of the communique is available from the BIC Website.

Unexploded Munitions shell
Unexploded Munitions shell
Alert – Ammunition is on our shore

The UK disposed of weapons at Beaufort Dyke, a trench between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Since the 1990s, almost 200 shells, incendiaries and phosphorus flares have been washed up. Phosphorus flares are stable in water, but when they dry out, they fume and spontaneous combustion follows. If you see anything you suspect might be ammunition DO NOT touch it and call the police immediately.

Marine Litter Strategy

The Northern Ireland Marine Litter Strategy contains measures designed to change attitudes and behaviour towards littering. This will be done through education, adequate provision of bins, fining offenders and collecting data on the extent of the problem. 

Marine and Fisheries Division’s role in implementation includes on-going communication with stakeholders through face-to-face meetings and this website. Support will be provided and best practice shared among stakeholders, whilst keeping track of implementation and reporting on progress.

We are currently reviewing the Marine Litter Strategy and have undertaken a partner survey to seek views on how the Strategy could be improved on to deliver more than just a sum of its parts.

European measures

The European Union is part of the international commitment to reduce marine litter significantly by 2025. As a result Descriptor 10 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires Member States to implement measures to ensure that litter is at levels where the “properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environments”. For more information see the European Commission website.

Marine litter data

Accurate and reliable data is essential to properly manage and assess the levels of litter present in the marine environment. Data is needed to inform policy development and to evaluate progress towards meeting policy and legislative commitments such as achieving good environmental status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Voluntary and community organisations

The Marine Litter Strategy is being implemented through partnerships between public, private and voluntary and community organisations.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB)

Since 2012 Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB) have produced the Marine Litter Survey on behalf of the Department. Eleven reference beaches are systematically surveyed using the internationally adopted OSPAR survey methodology. 

Marine Conservation Society

The Marine Conservation Society uses volunteers to undertake an annual survey of beach litter over a single weekend “Beachwatch Big Weekend”. Details of how you can become involved and reports from previous years are available from their website:


Here you can download a range of material on the subject of marine litter. These include a newsletter, information leaflet and card, as well as other relevant information.

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