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Digital methods and community engagement to reduce plastic waste in the Caspian Sea

Akvaplan-niva and partners have been granted funding from Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund (Handelens Miljøfond) for a project to map and clean-up plastic waste in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. The project will combine a range of advanced digital methods, educational programs, and citizen science to engage local stakeholders in plastic mapping and clean-up activities.

Objectives

The main objective of the CRIPTIC project is to build capacity in the Caspian region to reduce plastic litter to the Caspian Sea. The sub-objectives are 1) To harmonize mapping methods, 2) to mobilize local organizations in mapping and cleaning operations 3) to run a local pilot project on plastic waste mapping and cleaning using multidisciplinary tools and 4) to raise public awareness and community engagement in combating plastic waste.

Study area

CRIPTIC considers the transboundary Kura river mouth and the adjacent coastal area as the pilot area for mapping, identification, and cleaning of plastic waste in the Caspian region. Crossing three countries, the Kura river is the biggest river of Azerbaijan and is considered as the second water supplier to the Caspian Sea.

Methods and tools

The project will perform in situ cleaning and classification of plastic litter on riverbanks and beaches. The classification process will include the use of polymer identification using smartphone NIR scanners. The mapping to predict distribution and accumulation zones to be used in planning cleaning actions will be pursued using a combination of digital methods like high definition satellite images, advanced robotics (aerial drones) and high-resolution drift models as well as machine learning solutions for detesting and mapping the litters on the pictures. This will take place on the beaches around the Kura river mouth.

Community engagement

The CRIPTIC project will build relationships with stakeholders, citizens, and interest groups to work side-by-side as long-term partners – building a coalition of support on river/sea waste management policies, programmers, and actions to prevent and clean up marine litter to protect the environment as well as enhancing community quality of life. For this purpose, the project will produce educational material, arrange workshops, meetings, and training courses, be in dialogue with local media as well as marine litter associations. This will include on-site training for field survey and clean-up activities for scientists, students, and school pupils as well as NGO’s (citizen science).

More about the project:

The full title of the project is “Cleaning Riverine Plastic from a Transboundary Inflow to the Caspian (CRIPTIC). The project is led by Akvaplan-niva and partners are, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), SALT, TerraNor, Azerbaijan Geographical Society (AGS), Institute of Geography of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (IGA), Sukanal SRDI of Azersu open joint stock company (Sukanal), Water Expert Union (WEU) and Caspian Integrated Scientific Network (CASPISNET).