Plastic on the coasts is ours

By September 15th, 2014

The world's largest collection of marine debris information has identified Australia's coastal rubbish is mainly plastic from Australian sources.

In a report released today, CSIRO scientist Denise Hardesty says her team surveyed sites approximately every 100 km along the Australian coastline.

“We found about three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast is plastic,” she says. “Most is from Australian sources, not the high seas, with debris concentrated near cities.”

She says the density of plastic in Australian waters ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces.

Approximately one third of marine turtles around the world have likely ingested debris, and this has increased since plastic production began in the 1950s”

Dr Denise Hardesty

Marine debris includes items such as glass or plastic bottles, cans, bags, balloons, rubber, metal, fibreglass, cigarettes and other manufactured materials that end up in the ocean and along the coast. It can smother coral reefs, kill wildlife, and may pose a threat to human health.

“Approximately one third of marine turtles around the world have likely ingested debris, and this has increased since plastic production began in the 1950s,” Dr Hardesty says. “We also estimate that between 5,000 and 15,000 turtles have been killed in the Gulf of Carpentaria after becoming ensnared by derelict fishing nets mostly originating from overseas.”

She says the Tasman Sea south of Australia is a global hotspot for seabird impacts.

“We found that 43 per cent of seabirds have plastic in their gut. Globally, nearly half of all seabird species are likely to ingest debris, eating everything from balloons to glow sticks, industrial plastic pellets, rubber, foam and string.”

“By garnering the information needed to identify sources and hotspots of debris, we can better develop effective solutions to tackle marine debris,” says Dr Hardesty.

The research is part of TeachWild, a national three-year research and education program developed by Earthwatch Australia in partnership with CSIRO and Shell Australia’s National Social Investment Program.

“This innovative national partnership has engaged with thousands of students and teachers, says David McInnes, Chief Executive Officer at Earthwatch. “It reaches more than one million Australians to help increase our understanding of the problems of marine debris.”

For more information see Tackling marine debris.

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Dr Denise Hardesty – marine debris
Dr Denise Hardesty explains what marine debris is.


Dr Denise Hardesty: So marine debris includes consumer items such as glass, plastic bottles, cans, bags, balloons, rubber, metal, fibreglass, cigarette butts, or any of the manufacturing materials that end up in the ocean or along our coastline. It also includes fishing gear, things such as lines, ropes and hooks and buoys and these things are mistakenly eaten by wildlife, or animals can get tangled up or caught in them.

Dr Denise Hardesty – survey
Dr Denise Hardesty gives the details on the marine debris survey.


Dr Denise Hardesty: The CSIRO marine debris team has spent the last three years going around the country on land and at sea to collect data on the amounts and types of litter than we find. We’ve also been reaching out to school groups and have worked with nearly 6 000 students and educators and citizen scientists around the country to collect data and contribute to our understanding of this national issue.

Denise Hardesty – on solving marine debris
Dr Denise Hardesty on how to solve the marine debris problem.


Dr Denise Hardesty: What can we do to tackle the marine debris problem? Many of the solutions are pretty simple. Most of the items were in someone’s hand at one point or another, so we can just dispose of things properly.

It’s not practical to clean up the ocean’s garbage patches, but we can stop rubbish from getting in there in the first place. Don’t litter; pick up trash when you see it; take a go-cup with you; take your own bag to the supermarket; make individual choices that support reduced wastage.

We know that incentives such as container deposit schemes are effective, and we can also choose products that don’t use plastic microbeads. Did you know that a lot of toothpastes and personal care products contain plastic microbeads? Well those beads get washed down our sinks, into our waterways, out into the oceans and they can end up in organisms as small as plankton or as large as seabirds, turtles and whales. We can all make a difference.

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