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Everything started three years ago with someone calling us to inform us about the presence of a significant amount of waste on a beach near our office. When we arrived on the site, we found that we were facing a scene we are far too familiar with. Once the clues found at the scene were carefully analyzed, we realized that further investigation was required in order to understand the origins of such waste. We did not know at the time but this was going to be a long and sensitive investigation.

 

 

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Investigation of the crime scene

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Once on the beach, we started to set up a secure perimeter around the crime scene in order to be able to photograph, identify and collect the various pieces of evidence which would serve as a starting point for our case. That day we found many clues which we were used to encounter in similar situations. And as always, the real issue regarding their origins was remaining a mystery for us.

 

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INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE
CASE #200982

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Q-TIP
We found this clue once again, just like in many other cases. A real brainteaser for us. How could it end up here? How do we identify the culprit(s)? Later in the investigation we would identify causes and we were still in for more surprises…

Cotons-tiges / Cotton buds

PLASTIC BAG
Another clue we had found all too often. At that time, the Ocean Squad was already on to a lengthy on-going investigation regarding this matter. A case that is today well on the way to be classified thanks to the work of our team.

Sac plastique / Plastic bag

 

PLASTIC BOTTLE
It was hardly surprising to collect this type of clues. We would always find some more on the field, from different size and different brand. We have recently decided to involve our experts for this case in order to solve this new mystery.

Bouteille en plastique / Plastic bottle

 

DOLL
We didn’t know at the time of collection but this was going to be a very important clue for the rest of our investigation, as it would allow us to establish our first hypothesis.

Tête de poupée / Head of doll

 

CIGARETTE BUTTS
We had often found cigarette butts on the beach. Both dumped in the city and at the beach, cigarette butts are visible almost everywhere in our natural environment and this in spite of simple measures and solutions.

Mégots / Cigarette butts

 

DEAD ANIMAL
During our analysis, we found plastic debris in the fish’s stomach. It was highly likely to conclude that the fish had mistaken such debris with food.

Poisson mort / Died fish

 

FISHING GEAR
It was not unusual to also find fishing gear. Nets and hooks can be dangerous both on the beach for us individuals and at sea for animals, which may inadvertently become entangled in fish nets.

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Matériel de pêche / Fishing material

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Records filled with valuable information

Back in the office and after a first analysis of the gathered clues, we became aware that this crime had similarities with other cases. We conducted keyword searching based on the clues gathered from the crime scene. Many other cases resurfaced and we also found official reports from the Water Police Unit.

All this research enabled us to move forward with our investigation and make our first hypotheses. Among the many cases which resurfaced, all of them clearly had something in common and especially a link to our main crime scene. This connection: the river.

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#cigarettebutts

#qtip

#fishinglitter

 

These extensive investigations led us to retrieve various facial composites supplementing therefore our case gradually.

FACIAL COMPOSITE #1 (BAR CASE)

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Sex: Male
Eye color: Brown
Face: Square
Eyebrows: Thick
Lips: Small and fleshy
Hair: Short, brown
Age: Forties
Height: About 6ft1
Profession: Unknown
Type of offense: Misdemeanor
Offence description: Assault and battery due to a fight caused by stated individual for voluntarily throwing a cigarette butt on a public road.

Suspect 01

FACIAL COMPOSITE #2 (OWNER CASE)

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Sex: Female
Eye color: Blue
Face: Round
Eyebrows: Thin
Lips: Small
Hair: Long, blond
Age: Twenties
Height: About 5ft4
Profession: Unknown
Type of offense: Theft and degradation
Offence description: Theft and degradation of a rented apartment.

Suspect 02

FACIAL COMPOSITE #3 (FISHERMAN CASE)

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Sex: Male
Eye color: Green
Face: Oval
Eyebrows: Thick
Lips: Small and fleshy
Hair: Short, brown
Age: Thirties
Height: About 6ft1
Profession: Unknown
Type of offense: Unintentional injuries
Offence description: Is accused of harming a child due to a fish hook abandoned at sea.

 

Suspect 03

 

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The river as a new hypotheses source

If we had first linked the river and the ocean, we still needed to prove such connection. In order to do this, we went back on the field to get back to several sites mentioned in the cases we had studied.

We began to carry out an experiment to prove the link between our crime scene and the river. We placed the collected waste in waterproof containers with a GPS beacon inside. Next we placed them in various location points in the river. Several weeks later we were able to found some of them on the beach. There was no doubt as to the majority of waste collected on the beach were inevitably coming from the river.

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New suspects

On the site the conclusions were clear: on each of every area, we were finding the same types of waste we had found on the beach. We knew we were finally on the right crime scenes from which we would later be collecting new clues. Our legal photographer was able to take several photographs showing that the scenes were relatively similar.

First leads and hypotheses

Everything seemed to lead to the river therefore we had to continue our investigation in this direction. We then began to study certain areas to better understand how the river could be one of the causes of the presence of waste on the beaches.

Our researcher conducted research on what we call « drainage basin » in scientific technical jargon. We then understood that if a crime is committed « upstream » along the river, traces of such crime could end up downstream towards the outlet of the basin, which is for us the crime scene. The presence of waste on the beach was due to various « introduction vectors ». We identified a certain number of activities specific to the region which could explain how waste goes into the river and then towards the ocean. We classified them into three categories: industrial activities, agricultural activities, and urban activities which include among others landfill sites and leisure activities. With various sources and various suspects, the river lead was becoming clearer but suspects were increasing too.

Meeting experts

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We wanted to dig further into our investigation to support our first hypotheses. In order to do that, we met with experts and looked into scientific journals. But very quickly we were facing a serious problem. While many people like us, claimed that a link between the river and the ocean indeed existed, there were however few studies or data proving this as an undeniable fact.

>> François GALGANI. During our interview, he revealed to us that nearly 8 million tons of waste ended up every year in the ocean. According to some studies the majority of this waste would originate from mainland. Unsurprisingly, rivers are considered as the main sources.

>> Bruno TASSIN. While he confirmed that we were right tracing back to the source and focussing our research on the river, he nonetheless specified that the lack of scientific methodology and lack of knowledge on the presence of waste in rivers, could quickly be a significant impediment to end our investigation.

François Galgani, Ifremer in Bastia, Project Manager at IFREMER and Head of a European group on marine litter.

 

Bruno Tassin, Head of Research at l’Ecole des Ponts ParisTech.

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At this stage of the investigation we were on an important lead. But while we had succeeded in establishing this connection between our crime scene and the river, the investigation had just begun. We then decided to develop more resources to help us solve this case.

 

Next Chapter
Riverine Input

The Riverine Input project initiated by Surfrider Foundation Europe is aiming at tracing marine litter to the source. Its main purpose is to implement a scientific protocol for waste quantification and identification on a drainage basin scale. This project has the support of the HSBC Water Program.