Marine and Polar


IUCN’s programme of work on marine plastics has focused principally on seeking solutions to close the plastic tap and tackle plastic pollution at its source. This involves the mobilisation of a wide range of stakeholders including governments, industries and society. It also involves enhancing our understanding of the problem through research and the compilation of the latest science and data on the issue.

Current Projects

Plastic Waste Free Islands

With support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), IUCN launched the Plastic Waste Free Islands project in 2019. The overarching goal of the project is to reduce plastic leakage to the ocean from six small island developing states (SIDS) - three from the Pacific and three from the Caribbean. The project also aims to re-purpose waste into commercially viable products for sale, thereby generating job opportunities and income for local communities. A blueprint that looks at entire value chains, from production to disposal and also plastic usage/wastage in different sectors (e.g. tourism/fisheries), will be developed and endorsed by key regional bodies. These regional bodies will also be able to identify further opportunities to scale up the blueprint’s application, which can be used by any island country.

Partner: NORAD

Further information about Norad’s support to this project can be found here.

Marine Plastics and Coastal Communities - MARPLASTICCs

In late 2017, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), IUCN launched an initiative on marine plastics and coastal communities in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific regions. The overall goal of this three-year initiative is that governments and regional bodies within the Eastern and Southern Africa and the Asia regions promote, enact and enforce legislation and other effective measures that contain and reduce marine plastic pollution. To do so, IUCN will invest efforts in equipping governments, industry and society in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Asia regions with knowledge, capacity, policy options and plans of action to control plastic pollution.

Partner: Swedish International Development Agency

Download the MARPLASTICCs factsheet here.


In 2017, IUCN engaged in new efforts on closing the plastic tap in the Mediterranean Sea. This two-year project aims to advance our understanding of plastic fluxes from source to sea and help with the design of local and achievable solutions.

Partner: MAVA Foundation

Baltic Solutions to Plastic Pollution

With the support of the Swedish Postcode Foundation, GMPP endeavours to demonstrate the impacts of plastic pollution in the Baltic region on climate change, biodiversity and food safety. GMPP brought together a network of scientists to conduct desk and field research as well as laboratory experiments and provide sound scientific evidence of the negative environmental and social impacts of plastic pollution in the region. Based on sound scientific evidence and together with leading regional experts and grassroots organizations, GMPP will then investigate policy leveraging mechanisms to provide entry points for recommendations.

Partners: Swedish Postcode Lottery Foundation, Coalition Clean Baltic, Sea-ice Environmental Research Facility, Shaping Environmental Action, Searious Business


With support from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the PlastiCoco project aims to produce a report on the status of marine plastic pollution in  priority regions. The project, which started in 2018 and will end in 2021, also aims to produce guidelines on how to achieve sustainable aquaculture. These knowledge products, which will be presented and distributed at relevant fora, can help guide policy decision-making and marine spatial planning at local, national  regional levels.

Former Projects

Azorlit - Establishing a Baseline on Marine Litter in the Azores

In the Azores archipelago, little is known about the scale and implications of marine plastic pollution. Yet, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive understanding of this persistent pollution matter for implementation of adequate management measures. The project, “Azorlit - Establishing a Baseline on Marine Litter in the Azores,” was conceived to fill this gap and address fundamental questions regarding this growing environmental problem. The goals of the project were to document abundance and composition of litter on the coastline and the seafloor and to quantify the level of plastic ingestion in selected marine organisms. Additionally, the project aimed to provide assistance to a local NGO, The Azores Sea Observatory (OMA), through marine litter outreach activities, focusing particularly on children and teenagers.

Partners: Gallifrey Foundation, University of Azores or Observatório do Mar dos Açores, Instituto do Mar, Marine and Enviromental Sciences Centre, Government of the Azores

More information:

Azorlit Final Report 2016 Photo: IUCN Pham, C.K.; Dâmaso, C.; Frias, J.; Rodríguez, Y.; Carriço, R.; Ríos, N., Cruz, M.J (2016). Azorlit - Establishing a baseline for marine litter in the Azores: Final technical report. Horta, Faial, Portugal. IMAR-MARE, Departamento de Oceanografia e Pescas da Universidade dos Açores: 119 pp.


Frias, João, Carriço, Rita & Rodriguez, Y & Ríos, Noelia & Garcia, S & Pham, Christopher (2017). Marine Litter Accumulation in the Azorean Archipelago: Azorlit Preliminary Data. Available under request on ResearchGate.


Marine Pollution Journal Photo: Elsevier Marine Pollution Bulletin 

Phama, C.K., Rodrigueza, A.D., et al., Plastic ingestion in oceanic-stage loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) off the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, Marine Pollution Bulletin. Elsevier: in press. 


R4W Odyssey 2015

Race for Water Odyssey (R4WO) expedition set off from France in 2015 to reach the beaches of islands located in the ocean's five vortexes of trash, in order to conduct the first global assessment of plastic pollution in oceans and highlight its consequences on the populations.

More information:

Partners: Race For Water Foundation, UN Environment

Monaco Stakeholder Platform

In 2015, IUCN’S GMPP brought together in Monaco relevant stakeholders to design and implement long-term solutions to the growing problem of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. This meeting encouraged participants to identify key priority areas for short- and long-term action.

See IUCN's Framework for Action.

Future Projects

A range of new proposals are currently in motion. IUCN intends to extend the geographical scope of its work to the Arctic region, West Africa and the Western Indian Ocean (Source to Sea). 

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