The much-anticipated State of the Environment Report 2021 was released in July, revealing the harrowing decline of Australia’s environmental health and the need for swift and bold action. The report included maps and statistics derived from data collected through the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI), which was used to highlight the extent of the marine debris issue around the country.
The report recognised the growing plastic waste crisis our oceans are facing, with plastic pollution identified as one of the key threatening processes to ecosystem health and endangered vertebrate fauna. With increasing coastal populations across Australia, the risk of waste ‘escaping’ as marine debris also increases, posing significant challenges to the management of coastal and marine areas.
The AMDI network is well aware of the magnitude of the marine plastic problem, with data being contributed by citizen scientists all around the country since 2004. To provide scientific rigour in the analysis of the AMDI, the network includes collaborations across several universities, including the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Jordan Gacutan, from UNSW, has been analysing the AMDI Database since 2019 to assess trends in marine debris. This culminated in the work being showcased in the State of the Environment 2021 report in providing the distribution of plastic debris across Australia and debris by most common materials. Data from the AMDI showed:
- plastics accounted for 84% of debris nationally,
- types of plastics differed across Australia, and
- ‘hotspots’ of plastic could be found in Cape York and near capital cities.
The report also acknowledged the importance of citizen science in contributing actions that improve the long-term health of our marine and coastal environment. Dedicated volunteers receive ongoing training in data collection through Tangaroa Blue Foundation (TBF) to ensure accuracy and reliability, as well as having the opportunity to be up-skilled in monitoring methods and source reduction planning. Through the provision of these methodologies, TBF is able to support a wide range of community groups, environmental agencies and Indigenous custodians to participate in environmental stewardship and advocate for change on a national level.
With the report aiming to help shape policy and action, influence behaviours, and assess our actions as stewards of the Australian environment, Tangaroa Blue Foundation will continue to support source reduction and ongoing monitoring activities through the AMDI Database and are pleased that the value of independent citizen science is highlighted within the report.
The State of the Environment Report 2021 can be viewed here.