Who on Earth Cares about Cape York Beaches?

The Community of Cairns and Cooktown Cares

Submitted by Sue Hayes ACF Volunteer

On the weekend two community beach clean ups helped to remove mountains of plastic waste and marine debris from our beautiful Cape York beaches. Volunteers from both Cairns and Cooktown came together with the help of local businesses, and environmental and community organisations, to put in a grand effort to remove over 20 cubic metres of rubbish.

Archer Point, with its picturesque beaches, is often inundated with flotsam and jetsam brought in by the various ocean currents as well trash from local campers. To remove this latest rubbish were a small informal group of 6 people made up of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) staff and volunteers from Cairns as well as Heidi Taylor from Tangaroa Blue Foundation from Port Douglas. In a 2hr blitz these volunteers collected over 21 bags of rubbish weighing almost 100kgs. Some of these items included 94 shoes, (mostly consisting of thongs), 154 plastic drink bottles, 330 remnants of plastic bags, 1371 bits of plastic scraps, 94 polystyrene foam bits and 280 lids.

The second day was a more coordinated effort organised by Cape York NRM Working Group with over 30 people participating in a massive beach clean up spanning approximately 4.4kms on North Shore beach directly opposite Cooktown. This beach is only really accessible by boat, so with the fantastic efforts of QPWS Marine Parks & Land based Ranger, Cooktown Cruisers and the Cooktown Volunteer Coast Guard, the volunteers were safely ferried to the beach. Quad bikes generously provided by Darren Maudsley ‘Gofer’ and Lyle, were essential in transporting over 150 rubbish bags collected along the length of the beach to the mainland and into the Council skip. Other volunteers came from Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Cape York Weeds and Feral Animal Project (CYWAFAP), Country Women’s Association (CWA), South Cape York Catchment (SCYC), Tangaroa Blue Foundation, Cape York Marine Advisory Group (CYMAG), The Lure Shop, as well as other local community members.

Some of the more interesting finds in the clean up were a message in a bottle written by a young tourist visiting the area, a large burnt out fridge, an international message encompassed in PVC piping, a telephone money box, a rubber duck, a cantaloupe juice bottle from Thailand, and a television. By far the most common rubbish were bleach and lubricant bottles, nylon ropes, plastic lids, plastic drinking bottles and shoes. Thanks to Cook Shire Council for providing the skip bin to remove the bags.

The 4 hr clean up was rewarded by a delicious luncheon of salads, steak and ‘sangas’ provided by the Cooktown Branch of the Country Women’s Association, Cooktown Quality Meats, and Cooktown Ice Works, finishing off with a fruit platter by ACF.

A great community effort with volunteers feeling very satisfied after their clean up efforts as the beach was now almost completely devoid of rubbish. Heidi Taylor brought some educational posters showing the impacts debris can have on our marine ecosystems such as plastic bags suffocating whales and turtles. One volunteer said “I was distressed to find the amount of plastics on this relatively remote beach and see first hand the damage that can happen as a result of careless human waste”.

Big congratulations to Ian McCollum and CYMAG Inc who continue to do extraordinary conservation work in Cape York on a shoestring budget, and hope to do regular beach clean ups once a month.

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