Report by Patricia Swallow, Tangaroa Blue volunteer.
Known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island is a lush, tropical paradise, famous for its red crabs, Golden Bosun and Red Footed Booby birds, as well as its amazing marine life.
Turtles nest on some of the Island’s beaches and once a year tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand to make their way to the safety of the nearby ocean. Sadly, their path is often blocked by what is to them, an insurmountable mound of marine debris.
It was a story that Heidi Taylor and Matt of Tangaroa Blue Foundation felt compelled to investigate and, with assistance from Sam from Keep Australia Beautiful WA and a couple of keen volunteers, a trip to Christmas Island was planned.
Local volunteers eagerly joined Tangaroa Blue and Keep Australia Beautiful one Sunday in late March for a beach clean-up at Isabel Beach on the first day of the trip. Everyone got stuck in and a huge amount of marine debris was collected, amounting to over 220 kg of rubbish from just 55 m of beach! The usual hoard of plastic bottles (836), thongs (488) and polystyrene foam (2920) was among the marine data recorded and bagged-up ready for the local council to dispose of.
The next day saw enthusiastic Year 10 Students from Christmas Island District High School join Tangaroa Blue and Keep Australia Beautiful for a clean-up of Greta Beach. It is a beautiful location, reached by 4WD through dense bush, carefully avoiding the many red crabs dotted along the rutted track.
The school-kids are keen to get started and descend the staircase to the beach. Following a safety briefing they are given instructions to count and fill their bags with thongs, plastic water bottles or pieces of polystyrene foam. It is hot work down on the beach and all those bags have to be brought back up the stairs after the data is recorded, but everyone is eager to clean-up this pretty, turtle-nesting beach.
Used to seeing marine debris, Heidi and Matt of Tangaroa Blue are visibly upset by the amount of polystyrene foam on the small beach. Washed ashore, it has been breaking up over a long period of time, resulting in smaller and smaller pieces that can be found up to a metre deep in the sand; it is literally like snow on the beach.
After a few hours the heat has got to us all and everyone heads to the cars for a drive to Lily Beach, another beautiful location, for a delicious lunch provided by the Christmas Island District High School. Everyone is ravenous and happily tucks into home-made spring rolls, parathas, curry, and fruit.
That evening Heidi Taylor meets enthusiastic members of the local community, keen to hear how they can make a difference in the fight against marine debris. Heidi’s presentation was just the inspiration needed and they head home determined to put regular plans in place to keep their beautiful beaches free of this deadly rubbish – and to look forward to supporting Tangaroa Blue and Keep Australia Beautiful WA when they return to Christmas Island.