Marine litter in the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands are located right on the edge of the great pacific garbage patch, a natural ocean gyre that accumulated enormous amounts of litter over the past couple of years. About 70% of the artificial debris that enters the ocean eventually sinks to the ground but the rest, mainly plastic, keeps floating around until it either brakes down to micro plastic or ends up on a shore. The great pacific garbage patch brings so much plastic to the shores of the Marshall Islands that it is sometimes hard to see the beach under the plastic.

A littered beach in Aur, a typical scene at the shore line

There are international standards (e.g. by UN and OSPAR) to measure the amount of pollution by conducting systematic beach cleanups: all litter within a certain stretch of beach is collected, sorted into categories, counted and weighed. Doing this on multiple beaches and over a longer period of time allows to track the origins of certain litter items and give valuable recommendations for stricter policies to politicians.

Plastic paradise in Majuro

Surprisingly we could not find any publication about the amount of beach litter in the Marshall Islands. Therefore Henrik conducted such a study on his own back in 2022. Since this was a purely voluntary effort it took a while to analyze all the data and write everything down but now we present you the first Baseline Study on Beach Litter in the Marshall Islands. This is still a very small study with limited data but at least its something. More research is urgently needed, it would be great to continue this work as part of a properly funded project.

A Vision is Turning into Reality

For centuries, the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) have been celebrated for their exceptional prowess in boat building and sailing. They regularly journeyed between atolls on expansive offshore canoes called Walap, some stretching up to 100 feet in length. Within the tranquil lagoons of their coral atolls, smaller outrigger canoe designs were used for tasks like food gathering and fishing. The NGO Waan Aelõñ in Majel (WAM) as part of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) implemented Low Carbon Sea Transport project has revived the traditional knowledge and made it fit for today by merging it with contemporary technology. The new canoe designs offer much needed emission-free options for transportation and fishing. We have been supporting WAM and the Low Carbon Sea Transport project for the past 6 years and are very proud to see more and more of “our” yellow designs being used on the lagoons.

For more information check out the full article on This short movie shows the activities and achievements that took place at WAM in the past 6 years:

Video and article by GIZ Majuro.

Side Event at COP 28

Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) and GIZ will present the Low Carbon Sea Transport Project in the Marshall Islands as a side event on the international climate conference COP28 in Dubai. The live stream starts 12/09/2023 | 10:00 AM – 10:50 AM (W. Europe Standard Time):–1

See here for further information!

Green Shipping Conference Hamburg

Had the opportunity to present a research paper covering the effort under the GIZ funded Low Carbon Sea Transport Project (LCST) in the Marshall Islands at an academic conference hosted by KLU University Hamburg. Was great to meet the colleagues from Hochschule Emden-Leer, GIZ and all the other folks from the green shipping family.

Climate Change as it Happens

The Marshall Islands are a very low-lying country. Most of the land is less than two meter above sea level. Therefore every single cm of sea level rise is felt immediately – because the feet get wet!

Yesterday we had one of the high new moon tides and a strong north-eastern tradewind. Nothing special in general but enough to push lots of water in the WAM workshop.

Field Trip to Likiep Atoll

Right before Christmas we went to the beautiful Likiep Atoll as part of the assignment for the GIZ implemented Low Carbon Sea Transport project (LCST). The community currently operates the WAM Catamaran Mk I, the very first prototype of this design. After testing for 2 years in Majuro by WAM, Likiep launched the Cat a year ago and has used it quite a lot since then. Now 3 years after launch it was time for an assessment of design, use and impact.

During the field trip the Cat was extensively used for fishing and transportation to gain a better understanding for the needs of the people of Likiep. In addition performance data was collected and the WAM trainer showed local people how to use wood from the island (driftwood and coconut) to replace some parts of the deck and the rudder.

The WAM Catamaran performed very well in the lagoon conditions and was a pleasure to sail in the 20-25 kn of trade wind. It seems that the program is on a good track and that the WAM Cat is very suitable for the transport and fishing tasks in the Marshallese outer islands.

Plastic Ocean #2

Managed to do a second ocean litter survey during the stay in Tobal (Aur atoll). Tobal only imports a very limited amount of stuff and only 200 people living there at the lagoon side so the litter from the ocean side (windward direction) is entirely from abroad.

The results of this beach sample are interesting because they allow to identify the amount of domestic litter found during the previous survey on Bok En, Majuro atoll. Assuming both places get hit by the same amount of ocean litter from abroad (both places have the same orientation to the main wind direction and are not covered by other islands), the litter that was found in Majuro even more or in addition compared to Aur can be assumed to be domestic.

The survey on Aur has a few interesting aspects. For example there is one type of plastic bottle that was found 36 times on this 20 m stretch of beach. Almost 2 per meter! These bottles were found all over the shorelines of the islands of Aur! Eventually I could find one of these bottles with a label on somewhere else and trace it back to a Taiwanese brand mainly selling in China. I suspect the Chinese tuna fishing ships use them and just toss them over board.

There will be another survey like this on Likiep atoll and eventually a proper report about the results so stay tuned!

Field Trip to Aur Atoll

Went on a 1 week field trip with a team from WAM to Tobal, the northern settlement of Aur atoll some 60 nm north of the Marshal Islands capitol Majuro as part of the assignment for the Low Carbon Sea Transport Project (LCST). Two of the emission free sailing craft built by WAM under the LCST Project (implemented by GIZ) are stationed there: a traditional korkor canoe and a HarryProa prototype (designed by Rob Denney). The HarryProa is actually a close relative to our Proasis! Both vessels offer transport service for the community without burning fuel.

Main purpose of the field trip was to check on both boats, carry out minor repairs and train locals. On this occasion the korkor was launched for the first time. This was actually a true historic moment: it was the first time a traditional Marshallese canoe has been launched in Tobal for 30 some years. Aur atoll unfortunately lost all canoes and the know how to build new ones long ago and solely relies on motorboats today.

Hopefully this project helps to revitalize the former marine capabilities of the village over the long term.