Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators

With the Project:
Clean Seas

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) is working to combat marine plastic pollution. As part of these efforts, it is working to drastically cut back on single-use plastics on Arctic expedition cruise vessels through the implementation of educational and knowledge sharing clean-up activities with passengers and staff. The organisation has launched the Clean Seas Guidelines for visitors to the Arctic, a unique guide that provides travellers with information about responsible solutions concerning the reduction of their waste and plastic footprint before, during, and after their trip. Together with AECO’s sister organisation in Antarctica, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, it has also developed the Clean-up Svalbard guidelines, also aimed at engaging tourists in beach clean-up activities.


Marine plastic pollution is a growing problem around the world, even the northernmost areas of the Arctic region are not immune to this problem. The presence of plastics in the Arctic poses a serious threat to wildlife and local communities. With over 30,000 to 50,000 international passengers travelling to the Arctic each year, AECO members have a prime opportunity for direct outreach to combat the growing problem of waste and plastic. The expedition cruise industry can be a leader in the fight against marine litter. In addition, its members are uniquely located to help clean up marine litter from remote, and sometimes otherwise inaccessible, beaches in the Arctic.


For nearly two decades, members of the organisation have been engaged in clean-up activities in the Arctic by picking up waste when participating in inshore excursion. In Svalbard, the combined clean-up efforts between AECO and the island’s governor have witnessed a massive collection of over 40,000 kilos of marine litter to date. This initiative has inspired visitors to the Arctic to become more involved in plastic and waste clean-up activities. While members are conducting clean-ups worldwide, AECO has focused most of its efforts in Svalbard and has plans to amplify efforts in Iceland in 2020. Its members have, however, made individual efforts in other areas such as Greenland and Canada.


The members of AECO are altering how tourists in the Arctic can give back to their communities as well as the environment. In fact, they are adding new and meaningful activities to their itineraries that can be offered as part of an eco-tourist experience, which can inspire similar initiatives in other sectors and regions. The industry is also altering how science is conducted, by using AECO vessels, engaging passenger and citizens science activities, and also involving scientists in voyages organised to collect data. Furthermore, the members also help to reduce their plastic footprint by installing water and soap dispensers, removing single-use items and requesting products to come in different packages.


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