Cape York Clean-up Tour

Written by Vanessa Carey, Tangaroa Blue Project Officer and Event Coordinator

Cape York is the peninsula of far north Queensland and is the largest unspoiled environment in northern Australia.  It’s filled with remote beaches, diverse landscape and endemic wildlife, with stunning sunsets and sunrises, and an endless turquoise ocean to gaze out upon.

Desipte the area’s beauty, these remote beaches are hotspots for tonnages of marine debris washing in from our own own country and others. Eight years ago, Tangaroa Blue Foundation initiated the Cape York Clean-Up Tour, covering both the east and west coast of the peninsula, involving volunteers, partners and traditional owners.

From May to August 2018, Tangaroa Blue teams spent four days driving on the corrugated roads passing through Lakefield National Park and making tourist stops along the way at roadhouses, small communities, Black Rock Mountain, Rainbow Beach and Split Rock.  Over the five days at our clean-up destination, the team set up camp and cleared kilometres of beach of marine debris and recorded items for the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database.

A big thank you goes out to all our event parters including the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers, NPARC Apudthama Land & Sea Rangers, Kuuku Ya’u Land Trust Rangers, Mapoon Land & Sea Rangers, Hopevale Congress Rangers, Cook Shire, Sea Swift and Hawkins Transport, along with our funding supporters through the Queensland Government’s Community Sustainability Action Grants and the federal government’s Improving Your Local Parks and Environment Grants.

The Data

For the eighth year, the 92 participants involved in the Cape York clean-up tour have proudly cleared 7 tonnes of marine debris translating to 66,400 litres and 212,214 individual items from 17 kilometres of coastline at Cape Bedford, Captain Billy’s Landing, Mapoon and Chilli Beach.  Each event presented different experiences and ecosystems to enjoy, but the marine debris was the same everywhere; plastics. In addition to cleaning up the beach and collecting data on the returning items, the team’s other mission was to reduce the amount entering landfill after the event by recycling as much plastic as possible. From the total 66,400 litres of marine debris collected, the team managed to sort out 32,000 litres of hard plastics and PET bottles that were diverted from landfill and will be bailed out towards the end of the year for reuse purposes.

Cape Bedford

The first event from May 19th to 25th was spent at Cape Bedford within Hopevale just north of Cooktown.  The clean-up crew of 11 stayed at Elim Campground which provided views of distant mountains and the colourful sanded Rainbow Beach.  Wildlife was plentiful with sightings of amphibians, bird life, a sugar glider and beached sea snakes. Driving over enormous sand dunes, we reached Alligator Creek and Cape Bedford beaches where a total of 1 tonne of rubbish once coated 2 kilometres of the east coast.  A total of 28,900 items were removed from the environment with the top three items being 19,000 hard plastic bits, 3,300 plastic lids and bottle tops and 1,130 rubber thongs.

Captain Billy’s Landing

The second clean-up trip from June 6th to 14th 2018 was at Captain Billy’s Landing where the team could swim and bathe in crystal clear waterfall pools.  The 19 participants managed to clean-up 11 kilometres of beach on the east coast, with their efforts removing 36,000 items, equating to 1.5 tonnes, with 63% comprised of 22,500 plastic hard bits.  Other notable figures include 4,700 plastic bottles tops and 1,238 rubber thongs.


From July 14th to 22nd, a new team of 25 travelled to the west coast of Cape York peninsula, north of Weipa, where 8 kilometres were cleaned across the 11-kilometre beach, which is sectioned into two sites; Mapoon Back Beach and Janie Creek at the south end.  Together, with the help of 9 Land and Sea Rangers and Traditional Owners, a collection of 2.1 tonnes was removed from this not only long but wide beach, spanning out to 500m at times. A total of 51,884 items were removed from this popular turtle nesting beach with 50% of the debris recorded as hard plastic bits.  Following in second were the plastic drink bottles, with 12 of the 4,680 bottles being Australian branded.  The top third item was 3,700 foam insulation and packaging pieces, which was the worst material to collect off the hot sands, crumbling into pieces when you pick it up, just like plastics that have been exposed.  Although Mapoon would be classed as our most challenging trip due to beach conditions, the area still provides beautiful pink skies and a quiet tranquil environment.

Chilli Beach

Just recently, the final team of 24 returned from Chilli Beach, which is on the east coast just north of Lockhart River. Chilli Beach was an amazing end to the Cape York clean-up tour with its unique wildlife and beautiful purple, pink and orange sunrises. Despite the pristine wilderness, the beach was covered in litter, amounting to 3 tonnes!  Tangaroa Blue had assistance from Clean Coast Collective volunteers, 5 National Park Rangers and Traditional Owners, and a day from the Lockhart School students. The entire 7 kilometres of Chilli Beach was cleaned, even with volunteers spending 2 days just clearing micro-plastics from the pumice, and the last high tide washing in all new debris up on our clean swept shores.  In total, 83,760 items were cleared and recorded for the AMDI Database, with the top 3 items being 57,185 plastic hard bits, 12,763 plastic bottle tops, and 1,820 scraps of rope and net.

Cape York 2019 – get involved!

If you liked the sound of our Cape York Clean-up Tour, join us at next year’s event in Winter 2019. Keep an eye on our website and facebook page for the registration notice.   If you’d like to express your interest now, please email me. Come experience the Cape and see the marine debris for yourself. You’ll never look at plastics the same way again!

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