The Big, Long, Wide Beach Clean-up

Report by Tangaroa Blue volunteers Gabriele Kullack and Michelle Renshaw

This year 12 volunteers from Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and QLD, joined the Tangaroa Blue team for the Mapoon Beach Clean-up in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The team spent 5 days at the end of July picking up and processing marine debris from a 10km stretch of 150m wide beach with few trees and cloudless blue skies. We counted over 50,000 individual items of which almost a tenth were single-use drink bottles from Australia and South East Asia but principally from Indonesia.

Over the last 3 years all clean-up sites on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula have shown a drop of up to 50% in the total weight of debris and we were interested to see if the same trend extended to the west coast.

We found that it did. But, while Squid jigsthe total weight of debris had halved this year the number plastic drink bottles remained almost the same. So, single-use plastic drink bottles pose a proportionally increasing risk in the marine environment. One significant difference between the east and the west coasts was the number of nasty-spiky squid-jigs we found: over 900 at Mapoon and only a handful on the east coast. Some are made in Japan, but exactly who uses them is yet to be determined.

Another pleasant finding was the dramatic decrease in ghost nets recovered: 2 in 2016, a big drop from the 250 nets being found several years ago. Time will tell whether this is due to the unusual weather patterns this year – a late wet and no cyclones – or the banning of fishing in the Arafura Sea by the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries – a moot but intriguing question.

As in previous years the Tangaroa Blue team have benefitted from the excellent facilities at the Mapoon Rangers’ Turtle Camp. The Rangers helped clean the beach and with data collection, and provided essential logistical support, picking up and transporting debris to landfill and for recycling.

Who would have thought collecting rubbish with the threat of sunstroke, crocodiles, sandflies, mosquitoes, urine-filled bottles, squid jigs and other bio-hazards could provide so much satisfaction and, indeed, enjoyment? Lisa convincing a party of dirt-bike riders at Musgrave Roadhouse to divert their beer cans from landfill into our recycling bags, was a fitting end to the adventure,

As we moved out of camp the Mapoon Rangers moved in for their annual turtle monitoring.

Funding for the clean-up was provided by the Queensland Government’s Everyone’s Environment Grant.

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