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Seven tonnes of rubbish collected at clean-up campaign in Northeast Arnhem Land

A Sea Shepherd beach clean-up campaign in Northeast Arnhem Land led to seven tonnes of rubbish being collected.

The campaign and surveys conducted of the area, concluded that there were an estimated 250 million pieces of marine debris present, Sea Shepherd indicated in early September.

Sea Shepherd had joined Indigenous rangers in picking up what they explained has being far more rubbish than they had expected, on a two-kilometre stretch of Djulpan beach.

Sea Shepherd Australia national marine debris co-ordinator, Liza Dicks, said the campaign showed that even in a remote place like Arnhem Land, nowhere is safe from human-induced plastic pollution.

“What we found when we arrived at the beach on day one looked like something out of Armageddon, with plastic pieces visible across the entire beach as far as the eye could see,” Dicks said.

About 4.5 tonnes of the debris removed came from consumer items including:

  • Plastic lids, tops and pump sprays (14,494 pieces);
  • Plastic drink bottles (6,054 pieces);
  • Cigarette lighters (3,344 pieces);
    ●  Personal care and pharmaceutical packaging (4,881 pieces);
    ●  Thongs (3,769 pieces);
    ●  Toothbrushes, hair brushes and hair ties (775 pieces); and
    ●  Toys such as chess pieces (64 pieces).

In many cases, the plastic items were so degraded that when volunteers went to pick them up, they crumbled into plastic dust, a report from Sea Shepherd explained.

The remaining 2.5 tonnes was made up of 72 different types of discarded fishing nets or ghost nets – some of which contained turtle bones.

Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation managing director, Mandaka Marika, said rangers work hard to try and keep the beaches clean, but the rubbish going into the ocean must be stopped in the first place.

“The marine debris littering our beaches saddens us. Not only is it killing our turtles and other marine life, it also pollutes some of our sacred areas.”

Hundreds of plastic items were found with multiple animal bites, including those from fish and turtles. The stretch of coast that Djulpan is located on is home to six of the seven species of marine turtles which are all listed as ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Endangered’ under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Much of the trash found along Cape Arnhem originates from ocean currents and trade winds above Australia that pushes the debris into the Gulf of Carpentaria in a clockwise direction before washing ashore, according to Sea Shepperd.

The surveys of the area were conducted across the 14-kilometre stretch of beach in collaboration with marine plastic pollution expert Dr Jennifer Lavers.

Lavers, who is from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, has led similar campaigns.

In June, she led a two-week expedition to clean up plastic debris from Henderson Island, which resulted in six tonnes of debris being collected.

In 2017, research conducted by Lavers revealed that Henderson Island was polluted with the highest density of plastic debris ever recorded.

Part of the UK’s Pitcairn Islands territory, the island’s location near the centre of the South Pacific Gyre makes it a focal point for marine plastic debris.