Ghost nets – a deadly catch!

A group of volunteers and rangers have removed over 3.5 tonnes of rubbish from a remote beach in Cape York. An 800kg ghost net was one of the many items to have washed up on Mapoon Back Beach in the past year. This annual 5-day clean-up was run as part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, combining teams from Tangaroa Blue, Conservation Volunteers Australia and My Pathways, as well as Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers from Mapoon, Djunbunji, and Thamarrurr in the Northern Territory.

Once washed up on shore, ghost nets prove to be a massive logistical problem for clean-up groups as they are often completely buried by sand. At Mapoon, it took the team the better part of a day to remove the net through a combined effort of shaking, digging and winching with a 4WD.

“Removing the net was a really satisfying achievement for the team, it’s a great symbol of how, with cooperation, we can make real steps towards tackling the issue of marine debris on our beaches” says Randall Barry, a Tangaroa Blue volunteer from Canberra. Ghost nets present a significant threat to marine wildlife that are indiscriminately ensnared in the drifting nets, which can be kilometres in length.

Unfortunately, the net was only one of the thousands of individual pieces of marine debris collected over the five days. Among these 45,650 items were 2,865 thongs, 5,522 PET drink bottles, 4,386 plastic bottletops and lids and 4,747 rope cut-offs and scraps. Interestingly, much of the rubbish washing up on Cape beaches has foreign origins, predominately from South East Asia. Encouragingly, 10 cubic metres were diverted from landfill and recycled.

Marine debris washing up on remote beaches like Mapoon presents an unwelcome problem to local rangers already inundated with other responsibilities to the land and their community. It is only through the direct assistance of conservation organisations such as Tangaroa Blue Foundation and Conservation Volunteers Australia that these communities are able to preserve the natural state of their beaches.

This is the fourth Cape York clean-up for the 2015 dry season supported through the Queensland Government’s Everyone’s Environment Grant, and made possible by the support of Conservation Volunteers Australia, Mapoon Aboriginal Council, Mapoon Land & Sea Rangers, Thamarrurr Rangers NT and Djunbunji Land & Sea Rangers.

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