After a fast crossing with good tailwinds we arrived on Tuesday morning in Qeqertarsuaq with its beautiful ice berg panorama. Our sea legs quickly get used to solid ground beneath our feet and we are off on an exploration tour right away. We not only come across a beautiful black beach but we also meet Kirsten Pedersen. Besides running an art café with lovely furniture, she devotes herself to the problem of the increasing amount of plastic waste on the nearby coastlines. Together with a few volunteers she attempts to keep the area clean – a futile endeavor.
Kirsten tells us that a large part of the waste on the coast comes not only from the fishing industry but from the land. Just like most of the small communities, Qeqertarsuaq, with its approx. 800 inhabitants, has its own garbage dump at the edge of town. The garbage often lies here openly – the small local incinerator was closed down just a while ago. Waste processing in Greenland is increasingly centralized so that the waste from small communities like Qeqertarsuaq is picked up and taken by ship to a central waste processing station. This at least is the goal. In practice the small communities do not feel responsible and a lack of wind shields causes a large amount of waste to be carried out to sea. According to Kirsten the simple local incineration with all its unfiltered pollutants is not a good solution but the new central idea is also worthy of improvement.
We once again examine the plastic. We choose two beaches for comparison – one is the beach in town and the other beach is further away in a sheltered bay. In accordance with the OSPAR scientific guidelines, we completely clean up two large beach segments and document the type, amount and weight of the waste. We have undertaken other such examinations during the expedition. Together with the Alfred Wegener Institute, we can therefore come to conclusions about just how severely the pollution has become, especially in the high north. In a second examination, in cooperation with the Senckenberg Society, we take samples of plastic parts which, back in Germany, will be examined as to the non-endemic particles they carry. We want to find out if, for example, bacteria or algae can spread by being carried around the world on a piece of plastic.
Besides all the ever-present waste from shipping- and fishing industries, we also find everyday things which are found in any household rubbish. Lighters, oil cans, all sorts of packaging, cigarette filters even syringes – there is pretty well everything. The results of our examination in Qeqertarsuaq do not really surprise us. The outskirts of the town are relatively clean but with things left behind by the inhabitants; the beach in the bay holds mostly things from the sea. We found the amount of pollution even here north of the Arctic Circle disillusioning. One positive affect however – the beaches are cleaned up when we have finished.