Over the past week a team of 24 volunteers took on the task of cleaning marine debris from the iconic 5 Beaches loop at the tip of Cape York. The effort was organised by the Tangaroa Blue Foundation and included assistance from the Apudthama Land and Sea Rangers, Conversation Volunteers Australia, and some inspired tourists. This was the first coordinated effort to clean this 5km stretch of coastline which is significantly impacted by debris due to constant onshore winds and currents.
A veteran Tangaroa Blue volunteer, Angelika Volz, noticed a difference between this clean-up and others she has participated in the past, commenting that,”because some of the items had been on the beach for so long, they instantly disintegrated once they were picked up. This makes the clean-up process more arduous in that now you are no longer picking up one item from the beach, but instead hundreds of tiny plastic fragments. I think this has a greater impact on the environment since microplastics and the toxins they accumulate are now more ease to ingest by micro-organisms and other small wildlife at the bottom of the food chain.”
In addition to removing the debris from the beach, the teams also conquered the task of documenting the collected items. Once the bags were lifted off of the beach, precise sorting, weighing, and categorising of the debris took place. This information is later added to the Australian Marine Debris Database and is utilised by government agencies, aiding them to formulate new policies and procedures regarding ocean pollution and marine debris.
Through this method of data collection and sorting, the 5 Beaches team wasSea Swift logo low able to report the removal of 3.1 tonnes of marine debris from the Tip of which 10 cubic metres of plastic was separated and transported with sponsorship fom Sea Swift to Cairns for recycling, thus diverting it from the local landfill. Of the debris removed, more than 50% of the items recorded were fragmented hard plastic, a percentage which is fairly consistent with the data from other clean-ups in Cape York this year. Additionally, a significant amount of debris found at the Tip was foreign, suggesting that some of it has come off of cargo ships and brought to shore by the help of strong currents.
The 5 Beaches event was funded by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and through the Australian Reef Trust. Hopefully it will be the first of many in this most northern part of the cape. The culminating 5 Beaches clean-up was the last of 10 events which took place on Cape York this dry season. Over the 4 month period, a tremendous effort was made by more than 200 international and local volunteers and rangers throughout the region, and Tangaroa Blue is proud to report that this year over 18 tonnes of marine debris were removed from Cape York beaches.