From the 21st-24th of November, a group of Tangaroa Blue volunteers, staff and Wavelength Reef Cruises crew set off on a mission to clean-up several islands that lie in the Northern Great Barrier Reef Region, as part of the ReefClean project. Despite the rough seas and high wind forecast, the small group were able to visit 8 different islands and collect over 1.8 tonnes of marine debris over 4 days.
The team joined a group of grade 10 students and teachers from Endeavour Christian College who were heading out to Jiigurru (Lizard Island) for a marine research camp. Tangaroa Blue volunteers welcomed their enthusiasm and energy, particularly as many of the remote sites required volunteers to carry debris across tricky terrain back to where the boat was anchored.
On the 5-hour journey North from Port Douglas, the crew stopped at Two Islands National Park and collected the first load of 95kg (18 bags). After dropping off the students at the research station on Lizard Island, the team set up camp in beautiful, calm Watson’s Bay, and had an early dinner in preparation for the big days ahead.
Day 2 had everyone heading out to Nymph Island, a beautiful island that contains many 3700-year-old micro atolls within a tidal, internal lagoon. It was evident that Tangaroa Blue hadn’t visited this site yet as the South-East facing Bay was absolutely loaded with debris, including a 200kg rope! 590kg was pulled off this island alone. One of the islands in the Turtle Island Group which the team couldn’t get to last year was also cleaned up in the afternoon.
On the following day the team visiting aptly named Rocky Isles, South Direction Island, Eagle Island and Palfrey island, bringing the total load so far to 1,060kg (165 bags). Wavelength skipper John remained calm as he watched his vessel get piled up with marine debris (we tried to remove the sand, promise!) It was incredible to see how different the terrain was on each of these islands that were so close together, from rocks to boulders to coral rubble and soft sand.
At all sites, the crew recorded the wildlife that they saw for Queensland Parks, particularly several tern species that were nesting at this time of year which we avoided so as to not cause stress. Check out this eagle nest full of debris that was spotted on (you guessed it) Eagle Island. A sad sight, but you have to give it credit for resourcefulness.
The calmer weather on the return trip to Cooktown allowed for us to check out the south-east facing beach of Low Wooded Island on the way back with the students. Seeing as we were sitting at 999kg the crew were excited to tip it over the tonne mark. Well, be careful what you wish for! In just 3 hours the team picked up a further 760kg of debris, large and small, just off the South-East facing beach. Most of it had been sitting in the sun for so long that it would disintegrate when picked up. It wasn’t easy ferrying everything back to the mothership, but volunteers were dedicated to the cause!
The shock at seeing many of these beautiful islands littered with debris turns to satisfaction as the team looks back at the clean beaches left behind. What also gives hope is the knowledge that all of the marine debris collected is sorted and entered into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database, to trace and stop it back at the source.
Amongst the debris found on this trip were over 6,800 broken hard bits of plastic, 1,180 plastic lids and bottle tops, 700 plastic drink bottles, 620, thongs and rubber soles, 540 insulation and packaging foam remnants, 360 rope and net scraps and 135 personal care bottles. Some of the largest and heaviest items included over 940m of rope, 60 square metres of netting, and large commercial fishing remnants such as Fish Attracting Devices (FADs) and longline tracking beacons.
Even as Wavelength pulled into Port Douglas at 8pm, the job wasn’t done as the team had to transfer all of the debris into the back of the truck. With the help of some very kind Port Douglas residents, some tunes and a giant human chain, the job was done in a record 45 minutes!
All in all, it was an incredible trip and Tangaroa Blue would like to thank the teachers, students, volunteers and Wavelength crew for their perseverance to pull off debris from these challenging sites.
The ReefClean project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and aims to remove and prevent marine debris along the Great Barrier Reef region.