2.3 tonnes of marine debris removed from the Mackay Islands

Last week a team of 9 dedicated volunteers, Tangaroa Blue Foundation staff and Blue Planet Marine crew pulled off 2.3 tonnes from 6 islands in the Mackay region, including Penrith, Digby and Prudhoe Islands. 

Despite being delayed by the weather, the rest of the week they were blessed with calm seas which provided access to south-east facing beaches that hadn’t been cleaned in a long time, if ever. The expedition was part of the 5-year ReefClean project, which focuses on both the removal and prevention of marine debris impacting the Great Barrier Reef.

The team operated from Phantom IV, a vessel well equipped for carrying heavy loads belonging to the environmental management company Blue Planet Marine. They slept on board and had food catered for them by Blue Planet Marine, a luxury compared to some other remote clean-up trips! 

At least 25% of the debris from each site was audited. The top items found included 6,255 broken hard bits of plastic, 816 plastic lids and bottle tops, 270 plastic drink bottles and over 270m of rope. 

AMDI Project Officer Craig turner counts hard plastic remnants from Treble Island


On day two of the Mackay Islands

Volunteers at the ready with face masks and weapons for cutting up the giant rope in order to transport it

beach clean-up the team faced the challenge of removing two large ropes (weighing a total of 160kg) that were disintegrating into microplastics off of one of the islands. It was a massive but necessary task to remove it to prevent further plastics escaping into the environment.


Another massive load was from Digby Island where, in 2018, a liveaboard vessel washed onto shore scattering debris across the beach, including power tools, batteries, clothes, fibreglass, fire extinguishers and much more. The team pulled 400kg off the small beach in under an hour!

We told you not to bring the kitchen sink Jeanette!
A packet of single-use plastic forks that weren’t even used, left on the shores of Penrith Island

Whilst a huge portion of the marine debris collected from the Mackay Islands last week had come from offshore, it was 

disappointing to see the amount of rubbish that was clearly littered by campers and visitors to these incredible islands. 

Although Lee, a volunteer on the trip, was pretty stoked to find this $10 bill amongst the pile of rubbish! 




Some other interesting items found included an old metal cigarette tin from Hong Kong and some brand new looking Cyalume sticks (used for fishing) which looked like they hadn’t been floating around for very long!

Tangaroa Blue Foundation would like to extend a massive thank you to Skipper Ben and First Mate Eric who not only brought enthusiasm to the team (sometimes pulling anchor at 4am to get us to the right place with the tides!) but who also ensured everyone’s safety was at the forefront of every mission. 

Eric takes the crew to Penrith Island in Minke aka “Yellow Boat”

Thanks also to the Yuwi Aboriginal

Sally and Steve come to the rescue to help the crew unload – the hardest part of the trip!

Corporation for connecting us with Traditional Owners and sharing the history of some of these islands. We look forward to the artwork that the youth group will create from marine debris for Caring for Country NAIDOC week. 

Lastly, hats off to Steve and Sally, two local legends that provided us with incredible advice and who came to unload at the end of the trip, as well as Mackay Marina and Veolia for providing the 15m3 skip bin which we filled to the brim!

We look forward to returning to this incredible part of the coast and working with you all again to protect our oceans. 

ReefClean is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and delivered by Tangaroa Blue Foundation.

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