Sweden, known for its picturesque landscapes and stunning coastlines, has long held a special place in the hearts of its residents and many people around the world. Among these coastal wonders, there is the beautiful west coast, where people spend their summers swimming in the salty ocean and exploring the fascinating marine life.
But there is a shadow looming over this idyllic scene – plastic pollution.
Mikaela Julher and her twin brother, Lukas, are the driving force behind CleanSea, a dedicated initiative to combat the mounting issue of litter on Sweden’s beautiful coastline.
In an exclusive interview with Mikaela, we explore the origins of CleanSea, the impact of plastic pollution, and the path to a cleaner, healthier ocean.
The Birth of CleanSea
Mikaela Julher, co-founder of CleanSea, recalls the pivotal moment that sparked their mission.
“We have spent a lot of time on the Swedish west coast since we were very small. One day we found a bay that we cleaned, and it had over 100 kg of plastic in it. It was in a very beautiful nature reserve. We thought that if there is so much plastic in just this bay, then what does the rest of the ocean look like?”
This alarming discovery served as the catalyst for CleanSea’s journey.
The Troubling Face of Plastic Pollution on Sweden’s west coast
The statistics are sobering. According to Mikaela, approximately 95-98% of all trash found along Sweden’s west coast is classified as plastic. Among this plastic waste, single-use items like food wrappers, packaging, q-tips, plastic bottles, and bags constitute nearly 50%.
The fishing industry also contributes significantly, accounting for roughly 40% of the plastic found, primarily in the form of ropes, nets, and storage boxes.
One of the concerning findings of CleanSea is the presence of Dolly ropes.
In theory, these ropes are made of non-biodegradable plastic that can not break down but in reality, they usually break down into microplastic particles over time.
The larger pieces of Dolly ropes pose a risk to fish and seabirds, as they can get entangled in them, while the smaller particles can be mistaken for food and ingested.
Understanding the Roots of the Problem
Mikaela explains that a substantial portion of the plastic litter found on Sweden’s west coast originates from other countries. The convergence of ocean currents from the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea deposits vast amounts of trash along this coastline. An astonishing 80% of the litter comes from abroad, while the remaining 20% is of Swedish origin.
The Impact on Local Ecosystems and Communities
Plastic pollution poses a dire threat to marine life. Mikaela vividly describes the heartbreaking sight of marine animals entangled or killed by plastic. Birds with plastic wrapped around their beaks and stomachs filled with plastic fragments are grim examples.
While the exact extent of the issue on the Swedish West Coast is uncertain, global data is alarming. In the North Sea, 94% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, impacting their nutritional intake. In Greenland, an estimated 90% of seabirds face similar challenges.
Governmental Efforts and Challenges
The Swedish government allocates resources to individuals, companies, and organizations to remove plastic along the west coast. In the previous year, approximately 225 tonnes of plastic were removed. However, the scale of the problem remains daunting.
An astounding 700 tonnes of plastic washes up on the central-northern west coast each year, equivalent to five full bathtubs every hour.
The challenge persists as some plastic remains on land while some returns to the ocean.
The Power of Collective Action
Mikaela firmly believes in the collective power of individuals to combat this issue. CleanSea, a team of just ten people, demonstrates that even a small group can make a substantial impact when driven by a common purpose. They have effectively engaged the community and garnered support through their CleanSea bracelets.
While acknowledging that the local community is generally aware of the harmful effects of plastic, Mikaela points out that many underestimate the scale of the problem. High-traffic areas receive regular cleanup efforts, creating the illusion of cleanliness while remote, less-visited locations can harbor massive amounts of plastic.
In Mikaela’s view, two key solutions are critical:
First: reducing littering, especially of single-use plastic, can significantly mitigate the problem.
Second: greater awareness and action within the fishing industry can help reduce plastic pollution, particularly in the form of discarded gear.
CleanSea is making a significant impact worldwide. Through social media outreach, market appearances, and cleanup operations, they raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution.
To date, they have removed an impressive 45 tonnes of plastic from Sweden’s ocean and coastline while their funding primarily relies on the sale of CleanSea bracelets, which enable them to extract one kilogram of trash from the ocean for each bracelet purchased.
A Cleaner, Healthier Future
CleanSea’s mission is clear: a future where oceans teem with life, not plastic.
Mikaela and Lukas Julher are determined to continue their vital work, and with the support of individuals and communities, they are making strides toward a cleaner, healthier coastline for Sweden’s west coast.
CleanSea’s efforts serve as a shining example of how a small group of dedicated individuals can inspire change and ignite a collective movement against plastic pollution, one CleanSea bracelet at a time.