Chilli Beach is picture perfect, an iconic tropical postcard, its a long white beach lined with palm trees swaying in the wind and fallen coconuts, with views of offshore islands and an endless blue world to gaze out upon. The nights brought peaceful sounds of the wind, rolling waves and sometimes sprouts of rain as well as wildlife visitors, while the mornings were filled with bird songs and colourful sunrises.
Chilli Beach was a great site to camp out for the week, but the reason Tangaroa Blue Foundation and volunteers along with Clean Coast Collective, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers, Land and Trust Rangers, Traditional Owners and Lockhart State School students, collaborated for the eighth year in a row, was because Chilli Beach is a marine debris hotspot and an environmentally significant location that needs protection.
Despite the beauty of the area, when we stepped out onto the southern end of the beach we were disheartened to find so much plastic, fragments down to microplastics, mixed under layers and layers of pumice. There was so much in this one area, that is was targeted by the clean-up troops for the first couple of days. The rest of the week coasted along as we left the cleaned pumice section behind and continued north onto the sandy and shady palmed coastline that stretched for kilometres.
There was 1.2km to tackle on the final day at Chilli, but the night before presented an extremely high tide that washed in new debris, covering areas that had already been cleaned. It was amazing and unfortunate to see how much debris just one tide could wash in. Despite this undelightful surprise, the team worked together to sweep the last section of Chilli Beach, allocating the last couple hours to hit cleaned portions for a second time.
Back at home base, the data camp spent the 5 days recording everything, from toothbrushes, to cigarette lighters, fishing remnants, rubber thongs, food packaging, toys and more, that our beach-combing team removed each day.
The (55,000+) count of hard plastic fragments just shows the longevity of plastics in the marine environment, continuously breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming dangerous by blending into the food chain, but also making it harder to pick up off the beaches.
These remote Cape York beaches never cease to surprise the group on the number of different foreign plastic drink bottles that are traveling the currents and washing up on Australian coastlines. There were almost 1000 plastic drink bottles removed from over 109 recognisable brands originating from more than 22 different countries.
In comparison to the number of plastic bottles, there were many more plastic lids and bottle caps washing up, a total count of 12,763, making it the second top item following hard plastic remnants.
The whole of Chili beach was completely swept for marine debris and over the 6.5km stretch a total of 3.2 tonnes was collected, sorted counted and recorded into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database for the eighth year!
Data from eight years ago started at a collection of 5.6 tonnes in the first year, that slowly decreased until 2017, when a massive 7 tonnes was hauled off the beach, which was likely due to the cyclones that took place offshore and around Vanuatu, bringing in an extra haul for the 2017 clean up crew! Now that we’re somewhat back on track with the average amount of marine debris recovered annually, it’ll be interesting to see the tonnage in next year’s efforts!
The AMDI Database has kicked over 11 million items recorded earlier this year, after running for 14 years, it’s a huge milestone not just for Tangaroa Blue Foundation but to all the organisations and volunteers who have been involved over the years! All of this data on marine debris enables those involved a better understanding of this issue and where items can be looked at from the source and putting a stop there. A way to contribute to the AMDI Database by using your phone is downloading the Australian Marine Debris Initiative app and using it to log the items you pick up when you go for a walk along the beach. Every little bit of data helps fight this battle against marine debris.
Thank you to The Australian Government’s Improving Your Parks and Environment Grant, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Kuuku-Yau Land Trust Rangers, Clean Coast Collective, Lockhart River State School, 1300 Truck Hire for the support, and as well as to all the volunteers who worked so hard over the week once again!
Written by: Vanessa Carey (Tangaroa Blue Foundation Coordinator) & Craig Turner (Tangaroa Blue Foundation Assistant Coordinator)