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Author: Bridie Smith
Source: The Age
Date: 6 June, 2013

CSIRO survey highlights the proliferation of debris.

There are more than five pieces of rubbish per person littering Australia’s coastline, according to a national survey of the country’s beaches, islands and coastal plateaus.

The 18-month project by CSIRO, which surveyed Australia’s 35,000-kilometre coastline to measure marine debris and its impact on sea life, calculated 5.2 pieces of rubbish per person  in Australia.

Seventy-four per cent of marine debris was plastic. Cigarette butts, plastic bags and drink containers were common, and about two per cent of litter was fishing line used by recreational anglers.

Travelling south since beginning the survey at Cape Tribulation in north Queensland in September 2011, the researchers stopped every 100 kilometres to record what they found.

The final survey was completed at Bruny Island, on Tasmania’s south-east coast, last week.

Lead scientist Denise Hardesty said the preliminary results, released on Thursday, were a surprise.

“When you think that we are a first-world country with good waste management practices, it is a surprise,” Dr Hardesty said.

“A piece of marine debris can be as small as a bottle-top or a toothbrush or as large as a fridge-freezer or a 10-kilogram net,” she said.

Dr Hardesty said the types of rubbish found at particular locations signalled rubbish was local. Beaches near cities were littered with consumer rubbish such as drink containers, cigarette butts and plastic bags.

Remote areas had more rubbish associated with marine activities, like fishing, and included buoys, fishing line, packing straps and rope.

Isolated beaches were not immune to marine debris.

Dr Hardesty said one beach surveyed on the west coast of Tasmania was so remote the researchers had to travel by sea plane to reach it.

“When we got there, we found one of those big plastic tubs that said “Sydney Fish Markets” on the side,” she said.

In later work, researchers will assess the tides and currents to establish their role in moving sea debris around the coastline. This will trace the path of debris in an attempt to guide Australia’s waste management.

It will also track waste in ocean areas that can’t be monitored easily – but where researchers know marine wildlife such as dugongs, whales, sea birds and turtles live.

“It means that we can say the species that forage here are more likely to be affected by our marine debris,” Dr Hardesty said. “That helps us come up with a list of priority species that we need to focus on.”

Final results of the survey will be completed next year.

Read article in The Age