Finding the source of rubbish

Have you ever considered where the piece of plastic blowing on the beach came from? A team of dedicated  reasearch scientists have made it their mission to trace  rubbish and debris on our beaches back to it’s source.

This research is being conducted to better understand the impact of debris on marine eco-systems.

The team of marine scientists led by CSIRO Research Scientist Dr Britta Denise Hardesty are stopping every 100km around the Australian coastline to catalogue rubbish and debris.

Dr Hardesty said debris collected during the surveys will be analysed by looking for barcodes and other identifying markers to determine its origin.

This picture was taken at Rye Beach. Photo courtesy of the CSIRO

“This research will allow us to determine the distribution of marine debris and whether the debris comes from land based sources or washes in from the sea.

Information about the sources of this rubbish and debris will help create a national map of areas where marine wildlife is likely to encounter debris and determine which animals are most at risk of harm.

“Information about the sources of this rubbish and debris will help create a national map of areas where marine wildlife is likely to encounter debris and determine which animals are most at risk of harm,” she said.

Studies by CSIRO and other research organisations have revealed more than 270 species of marine animals are affected by marine debris worldwide.

This YouTube clip demonstrates why it’s important to make sure you dispose of rubbish correctly.

How can you contribute to the surveys?

Dr. Hardesty said community and volunteer groups can help protect the environment by providing information about the rubbish they collect from beaches to the TeachWild National Marine Debris Database Project.

So far the surveys have revealed even beaches in remote areas can have debris, whilst it is more common to find debris on beaches within easy access of populations centres or towns.

What’s happening on the Surf Coast to reduce marine debris?

President of local environmental volunteer group, Surfers Appreciating the Natural Environment (SANE) Graeme Stockton said there are lots of volunteering opportunities on the coast for those interested in protecting the environment.

“As a community we need to be proactive and join local groups who are campaigning to protect the environment,” he said.

A group of Torquay residents have initiated ‘Plastic Bag Free Torquay’ a campaign to ban single use plastic bags in the Torquay area.

Stacie Bobele from ‘Plastic Bag Free Torquay’ said Australians use 16 million plastic bags each day.

“A ban on plastic shopping bags is the easiest way to reduce the amount of plastic which goes into our oceans and landfill areas.

“By bringing re- usable bags each time we shop, we are taking a significant step toward a healthier ocean and healthier environment,” she said.

Rubbish and debris at Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach, often regarded as the dirtiest beach in the world. Photo: Tim Silverwood.

Are there any areas on the Surf Coast that you think need cleaning up? Can you suggest any other ways we can reduce the amount of rubbish on our beaches?

Follow these links to find out more:

Read the CSIRO fact sheet on tackling marine debris.

Learn more about the National Marine Debris Database.

Find out more or become involved with Plastic Bag Free Torquay.

Learn more about the work of Surfers Appreciating the Natural Environment or get involved.

This article appeared in the Surf Coast Times fortnightly Green the Coast Column.

Next steps to realising our future

The forum generated various ideas for the next steps that could be taken towards realising our future aspirations as coast carers. These ideas could be grouped into four key themes.

In the conversations we have from now onwards, we need to:

  • continue to talk about the BIG questions that we hold and find ways of communicating the key messages simply – with each other and with others (e.g. Why is our work important? What does it matter?)
  • create opportunities for more conversations between our community and the various agencies involved in coast care
  • look for opportunities where people are gathering to talk about related topics (e.g. fire management) and draw links to our purpose and activities, and
  • reframe the language we use when communicating with others (e.g. refer to ‘vegetation’ as ‘habitat’ – see Birds Australia publications for good examples of simple, accessible language).

We also need to use the stories we share as a foundation to:

  • create an ‘interpretive story’ for visitors to experience on the soon-to-be-built Surf Coast Walk
  • set a mission that everyone shares the stories (i.e. what we do and why) with as many people as we can and then invite them to join us in taking action
  • capture and share the great stories that we all know about (and start to actively collect these stories in words, photos and video), and
  • use our broader network to create its own online space that is accessible and simple, and allows local groups to upload and share stories, photos, event details, questions and video.

In the work we do together, we can start to:

  • fund and prioritise ongoing monitoring programs to inform our learning and outcomes
  • make our activities more visible to other people, starting with working bees and other activities on the Great Ocean Road (Note: during the forum, Coast Action/Coastcare provided a sign template that groups could use to promote their activities)
  • start to research and document (e.g. in a story) the extent to which we are ‘winning or losing’ the battle to save key ecosystem species/the war against environmental weed species, and
  • begin looking to the philanthropic sector as a possible funding source for our projects (e.g. www.ourcommunity.com.au).

By networking more we could:

  • find a central point of contact that works across all the agencies (e.g. Coast Action/Coastcare)
  • update our own lists of all current volunteer groups, starting with centralised information sources (e.g. Surf Coast Shire, Great Ocean Road Coast Committee), and
  • make the effort to do more ‘volunteer exchanges’ when doing on-ground works.

If we focus on implementing some or all of these ideas as we talk, share, work together and network, we will move forward together and achieve more on-ground success in caring for the coast!

Sending a message

Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection and enhancement of Australia’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people through conservation, activism, research and education.

Marine debris is a key Surfrider initiative due to its detrimental impacts on marine and coastal environments, particularly animal and bird life. The foundation’s focus is on empowering individuals and community groups at the local level to proactively remove and reduce the amount of marine debris through local beach cleanups and community education activities.

The initiative engages volunteers, community groups, industry and government agencies, and other environmental organisations in making a positive and sustainable impact on marine debris. Locally-based Surfrider Foundation community groups are responsible for beach clean-ups in their own areas, including along the Surf Coast.

These activities help to protect and conserve our precious marine and coastal environments for future generations, which includes safer habitat for indigenous fauna. There is also a strong emphasis on creating awareness in the community.

The initiative highlights:

  • the importance of data gathering and analysis in helping to address sources of marine debris
  • the value of social responsibility and education, and
  • the need to actively engage with the community to create positive social change.

Story provided by Kristy Theissling, General Manager, Surfrider Foundation (Australia)