Researchers from the CSIRO have found everything from crocodile handbags to American milk bottles on our beaches. They say that from Sydney Harbour to the remote west coast of Tasmania, there’s no beach in Australia that is rubbish-free. Greg Muller reports.
Senior research scientist at Marine And Atmospheric Research with CSIRO, Dr Chris Wilcox, has surveyed every 100 kilometres of coastline in Australia and found no beach on the continent free from rubbish.
Plastic dominates the rubbish found on Australian beaches, and Dr Wilcox says remoteness was no barrier to floating debris.
‘The whole coastline is connected by the ocean, so something we do in Sydney and Melbourne ends up affecting thousands of kilometres of ocean and thousands of kilometres of coastline,’ he says.
The CSIRO study found concentrations of rubbish on the coastline and in the water increase around populated areas.
‘Eighty per cent of the debris comes from urban sources and 40 per cent of that is beverage containers,’ says Dr Wilcox.
But remote areas are still contaminated, especially if they are in the path of prevailing onshore winds.
‘The roaring forties are blowing westerly across the entire Indian Ocean so you see waste from local fisheries and some stuff coming form the coast of Africa.’
The beach is often where debris starts its journey and can end up in large concentrations in the ocean. Big eddies called gyres trap debris and can lead to large concentrations of floating rubbish.
‘One of the gyres which has been extensively studied in the Atlantic has densities of up to 588,000 items per square kilometre. We surveyed off the coast of Australia and found densities about a tenth of that, about 50,000 things per square kilometre,’ says Dr Wilcox.
The CSIRO study found pieces of debris have a pervasive impact on marine life.
‘We found 80 seabird species that have been detected eating plastic and 60 per cent of these birds had plastic in their gut at the time,’ says Dr Wilcox.
‘Six-hundred species so far have been identified as consuming plastic.’
Dr Wilcox says that because the majority of debris is from land-based activities, this provides an opportunity to reduce the rubbish in the environment.
The study found a direct relationship between council regulations and the amount debris found on beaches. The waste management policies of 45 coastal councils were analysed and there was a clear correlation between the amount of rubbish on beaches and local regulations.
‘All these items were at one point in someone’s hand and they have been disposed of irresponsibly,’ says Dr Wilcox.
‘Councils that have active anti-illegal dumping programs tended be cleaner.’
Bush Telegraph listeners have reported finding all sorts of debris on beaches across the country including composting toilets, a crocodile handbag and a milk bottle from the United States.
The CSIRO study found the dirtiest beach in Australia is Shelly Beach in Manly, NSW.
Read article at the ABC