Record Breaking Cape York Helicopter Clean-up

Over the past week a team of 25 people including volunteers, Elders and Custodians were flown by helicopter to a remote beach on Wuthathi Country where they removed a staggering 10.8 tonnes of marine debris.

The unique clean-up, which targeted almost three kilometres of coastline along Wuthathi Ngaachi (Country) and Karakara (Sea Country), is one of the hundreds of clean-ups marine debris organisation Tangaroa Blue Foundation runs each year.

“Through our helicopter surveys over the past four years we could see marine debris piling up along the Cape York coastline between Cooktown and Horn Island but given the remote location we were unable to get teams on the ground to remove it,” says Tangaroa Blue CEO, Heidi Tait.

“Our usual boats and four-wheel drives were no match for this remote location, which has become a debris drain for plastic waste from around the world but with the help of Heartland Helicopters we were able to reach, remove and record the waste in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative Database.”

“The Wuthathi Ranger base and associated equipment which supported the clean-up on Country was completed in November 2021 as part of Wuthathi peoples fight for self-determination and return to Country to movement” Wuthathi Custodian Coordinator Clayton Enoch said.

Wuthathi IPA Coordinator Sophie Holt stated that the project was a good example of the great environmental and cultural outcomes that can be achieved when First Nations Corporations and Indigenous Land and Sea programs are better supported and resourced. The clean up has helped implement the Wuthathi Healthy Country Plan, where marine debris are listed as a major threat to Marine Totems, Islands, Coastal Ngaachi and Reefs and Seagrass beds.

The Wuthathi clean-up team removed over 300,000 individual items which included thousands of plastic bottles, 1.3 tonnes of net and rope, 345 kilograms of commercial fishing beacons and 6 ghost nets.

Moira Macumboy – a member of the Wuthathi Tribal Elders Council said: “In our days our old people have been living on our country and on our beaches, they camp, and no rubbish was on our beach, but now today it is the modern world and there’s a lot of boats, fishing boats and big ships from overseas, they chuck all that mass of rubbish in the water and it all washes up on our beaches, that’s really sad.”

To help reduce and reuse plastic waste that litters our beaches, Tangaroa Blue uses a range of tools to analyse each item collected to identify opportunities for source reduction plans and furthering scientific understanding and conservation efforts.

With fishing litter dominating the debris in Cape York, the team was able to use handheld trinamiX spectrometers to identify plastics for the Tangaroa Blue’s Rig Recycle program. The program allows volunteers to instantly identify usable and recoverable plastics for processing and recycling.

“I would like to thank the Tangaroa Blue team, the Wuthathi Custodians, Elders and all those involved in delivering this record breaking 10 tonne clean-up,” says Tait.

The Cape York Clean-up was made possible through the support of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, Reef Trust, The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australian Border Force, Cape York Natural Resource Management, Ocean Conservancy, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), BASF / TrinamiX and University of NSW.

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