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.
Despite the area’s beauty, the remote beaches are unfortunately hotspots for tonnes of marine debris washing in with the currents, winds and tides, from our 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 a group of volunteers, partners and Traditional Owners.
From July 14th to 22nd 2018, the Tangaroa Blue team spent a total of four days driving on the corrugated roads passing through Lakefield National Park and making the tourist stops at Split Rock, lookouts, roadhouses and small communities to reach their destination. Over the five days at Mapoon Beach, the team of 13 set up camp at Cullen Point where the clean-up began with the group working southbound onto Mapoon Back Beach covering a distance of 5.4 kilometres.
An additional 9 participants camped at the south end at Janie Creek, putting 11km of beach between us and worked northbound for 2.8 kilometres. Mapoon is a tough beach, it’s 11 kilometres long and 500 metres wide, the marine debris spreads across the width of it, and it gets quite hot, also making the sand very soft to walk on.
Despite the conditions the amazing crew were still able to cover 8.2 kilometres, only missing a 3-kilometre patch, which marks the starting point for 2019’s clean-up crew, and separates the data sets for Mapoon Back Beach and Janie Creek in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database.
Out on the beach volunteers filled up a total of 324 bags, with the Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers driving along collecting the debris. It was transported to data camp where a team waited to commence sorting the debris into like-materials and alike items for the AMDI Database. In total the team picked up and sorted through nearly 2 tonnes and 51,884 individual items, translating to 24,319 litres of marine debris removed from the remote coastal environment.
Once items were logged they were further sorted into landfill, artist supplies, PET recycling or hard plastic recycling. From the total volume, 8,000 litres were diverted from landfill which included 4,680 PET plastic drink bottles. Nearly 50% of the data is represented by a common category across many beaches, hard plastic remnants. With a total count of 24,698, fragments that were large and strong enough were set aside to be recycled or passed onto artists, while the majority left being too small or brittle were put into landfill. The third top item was foam packaging and insulation which is a type of plastic that cannot be recycled and is a voluminous item that unfortunately contributes to landfill. Overall 80% of the dataset was plastic.
In the evening volunteers would enjoy pink sky sunsets, chats around the camp and a few games of Uno. There was even a small touristy area at Cullen Point where history of Old Mapoon was presented on plaques, about its establishment in 1891 by traditional homelands of the Tjungundji people.
We thank the Mapoon Land & Sea Rangers and all our volunteers assisting in this year’s event, along with the Australian Government’s Improving Your Local Parks and Environment grant for funding this year’s clean-up.