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Exploring how citizen science projects can support UN Sustainable Development Goals for plastic

This paper was published in the journal of Citizen Science Theory and Practice on 27 June 2023 and is co-authored by the Global Ocean Account Partnership, Tangaroa Blue Foundation and Australian Citizen Science Association.


Plastic debris within marine environments is an issue of global concern, leading to commitments at international, regional, and national scales to remove plastics from the environment and prevent further entry. The United Nations (UN) created a global framework of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with several goals to advance the environmental dimension of sustainable development, with global and country progress tracked by targets and their indicators. Countries voluntarily report their progress on the basis of guidance provided by the UN on what data is needed. SDG 14, Life Below Water, contains one target to significantly reduce marine pollution, with specific mention of plastic debris. To date, however, national information on plastic debris has been sparse, although citizen science projects have been collecting data at a spatial and temporal coverage relevant to SDG reporting. This paper provides an overview to clarify the data requirements for reporting on the SDG indicator of plastic debris density and the complex process in which data for SDGs is requested from and provided by countries. We then explore the potential for citizen science to assist countries in filling evidence gaps, through providing data on plastic pollution. We focus on the sub-indicator for beach debris, which accounts for most citizen science projects collecting data on plastic pollution. Then, we unpack the opportunities and challenges of augmenting SDG reporting with information gathered from citizen science communities. Lastly, we recommend ways for citizen science communities and governments to synergize efforts monitoring plastics to inform pathways for preventing and reducing such pollution ending up in our marine environments.


Jordan Gacutan, Global Ocean Accounts Partnership, Jessica L. Oliver, Australian Citizen Science Association, Heidi Tait, Tangaroa Blue Foundation, Australia, Teerapong Praphotjanaporn, Global Ocean Accounts Partnership and Ben M. Milligan, Global Ocean Accounts Partnership.