Marine Litter Windrows: A Strategic Target to Understand and Manage the Ocean Plastic Pollution
Windrow is a long-established term for the aggregations of seafoam, seaweeds, plankton and natural debris that appear on the ocean surface. Here, we define a “litter windrow” as any aggregation of floating litter at the submesoscale domain (<10 km horizontally), regardless of the force inducing the surface convergence, be it wind or other forces such as tides or density-driven currents. The marine litter windrows observed to date usually form stripes from tens up to thousands of meters long, with litter densities often exceeding 10 small items (<2 cm) per m2 or 1 large item (>2 cm) per 10 m2. Litter windrows are generally overlooked in research due to their dispersion, small size and ephemeral nature. However, applied research on windrows offers unique possibilities to advance on the knowledge and management of marine litter pollution. Litter windrows are hot spots of interaction with marine life. In addition, since the formation of dense litter windrows requires especially high loads of floating litter in the environment, their detection from space-borne sensors, aerial surveys or other platforms might be used to flag areas and periods of severe pollution. Monitoring and assessing of management plans, identification of pollution sources, or impact prevention are identified as some of the most promising fields of application for the marine litter windrows. In the present Perspective, we develop a conceptual framework and point out the main obstacles, opportunities and methodological approaches to address the study of litter windrows.