Cape Bedford – a boiling point of marine debris

If Cape York is a hot spot for marine debris in Australia, Cape Bedford, the first of the four 2015 multi-day clean-ups in Cape York, must be the boiling point: With over a ton of rubbish on 500 m of beach the pollution was more than two times worse than what Tangaroa Blue has ever encountered! You can blame tropical cyclone Nathan that hit the coast north of Cooktown as a category 5 in March and dumped extraordinary amounts of debris on the beach. But you can also blame human behaviour from around the world that lets all this trash end up in the environment in the first place.

Photo: After Cyclone Nathan

For the third year, Tangaroa Blue tackles four different sites on Cape York peninsula, each taking five days to clean-up. Cape Bedford, a remote beach near the Indigenous community of Hopevale was the kick-off for the 2015 season in Cape York and already broke a sad record. From the 24th – 28th May crew from Tangaroa Blue and Conservation Volunteers Australia, Hopevale Congress Rangers, students from Hopevale School and community members helped clean-up the mess.

Photo: After Tangaroa Blue

Whilst most clean-ups include bending down, picking it up, putting it in the bag, walk a bit and bend down again, this time the helpers could just sit down amongst the plastic and let their arms wander – octopus like – over the piles of rubbish around them collecting sad evidence of our lifestyle. Over 400 bags and countless large items were then loaded onto cars and trailers and taken back to the camp where a restless collation team sorted and counted the trash. With every metre that the beach looked cleaner the wall of bags at the camp grew, encircling the data crew and locking them into a marine debris fort. As the skip bin filled up with landfill items and ten silo bags overflowed with recyclables more and more data were fed into the CyberTrackers, providing a scientific grip on the otherwise overwhelming amounts of debris: On 5.5 km of beach the team collected 2.7 tonnes and 63,500 items. Keeping up their sense of humour the crew even conducted the creepiest-item-competition, still debating if the four-armed-one-legged superman figure won or the bold squinting doll’s head. And as they counted 11,000 bottle caps, 3,000 plastic drink bottles and 1,500 bleach bottles with the majority of them coming from overseas it became shockingly clear once more that our use of plastics and our consumption attitude has to radically change if we ever want to see a reduction of the problem and that marine debris doesn’t stop at international borders.

It took many helping hands, five long days and a lot of planning and logistics to transform Cape Bedford beach back to how it was before the invention of plastics and the existence of marine debris. Eventually, rubbish will wash up there again. To limit that we must work on all levels. One of them is to engage the next generation and raise their awareness. Therefore, Heidi Taylor visited the local school after the event to tell the future guardians how much got collected on their beach and how much they contributed, hoping that one day these kids will grow into responsible adults that care and do their part to look after everyone’s environment.

Events like this would not be possible without the combined effort from many resources. A big thank you goes to Tangaroa Blue volunteers, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Parley for the Oceans, Hopevale Congress Rangers, Hopevale School, Hopevale Store, QLD Government’s Everyone’s Environment Grant, Cook Shire, community members and volunteers for all their efforts.

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