Marine debris is one of the major environmental issues worldwide, but also one of the easiest to solve - if we are committed. There are three tiers to tackle this problem. Tangaroa Blue Foundation works on all three levels:
Removing rubbish from the environment does not only visually restore the natural state, it mitigates the toxic effects of plastic degrading in the environment and the risk to humans and animals that can be harmed through deliberate or accidental interaction with the debris. To date, Tangaroa Blue's volunteers have cleaned beaches and waterways at over 2,132 sites around Australia and removed over 705 tons of rubbish. Our events range from sites that have been cleaned up every month since 2004 to massive multi-day adventures in some of Australia's most remote and most polluted areas which can result in volunteers collecting 3-5 tons of mainly plastics from one beach alone.
To solve the problem in the long run we need to understand it: Therefore, every piece of rubbish that is collected is entered into the Australian Marine Debris Database, the most comprehensive collection of marine debris data in the country, containing over 7,386,158 items. More than 130 categories give an exact image what types of rubbish occur in certain areas and, if the beach has been cleaned up multiple times, how the quantity and quality of litter changed over time. With this understanding in mind it is then possible to create solutions that are tailored to certain issues in specific areas - source reduction plans. The database has an open access policy, enabling anyone to enter data and to view a certain set of data online.
Whilst Tangaroa Blue organise countless clean-up events around the country, often it is school groups and communities taking initiative and recording and entering the data into the database. Keen to join a beach clean-up or organise your own? Learn how to get involved.
Our biggest clean-up efforts to date:
• The WA Beach-Clean-up: Since 2004 volunteers have been registering their own sites to run this massive event every year in October.
• Some beaches have been cleaned and monitored monthly or quarterly for up to 12 years. Our monitoring sites include 4-Mile-Beach in Port Douglas (QLD), Cape Kimberley (QLD), Quarry Bay (WA) and Injidup (WA).
• Since 2011 we have coordinated week long adventures every year between May and September in Cape York, removing an average of 3 tons of rubbish each time and involving up to 200 volunteers from around the country along with local Traditional Owners and Rangers.
• In 2015 we were called in to clean up after two category 5 cyclones in QLD, one in Yeppoon and one in Cape Bedford north of Cooktown. During these events we encountered the worst debris density ever recorded by us: 1.2 tons of plastic on only 500 m of beach.
• In October 2015 we were asked to coordinate the Great Barrier Reef Clean-up. Over two weekends we coordinated 11 clean-up events with a total of over 1,000 volunteers removing more than 100,000 individual items from the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
More effective than cleaning up beaches is preventing rubbish from ending up there in the first place. Through the AMDI Database we can identify issues and then work with communities, industry and government to address the problem, creating a source reduction plan. This can include improved infrastructure such as rubbish bins, anti littering campaigns or a change in procedures or formerly polluting practices.
Some of our litter containing programs are:
• Ban on plastic strapping bands in WA: Strapping bands from the lobster industry used to be a significant contribution to marine litter in WA. After the problem was identified through the AMDI the industry was contacted and eventually a legislative change achieved, banning strapping bands on vessels throughout Western Australia.
• Reduction of weather balloons: One hundred weather balloons used to be released every day in Australia by the Bureau of Meteorology with many of them ending up in the marine environment. Through pressure from Tangaroa Blue Foundation alternative satellite technology was implemented, making the use of balloons unnecessary and significantly reducing the number of balloons released.
• Helium balloon releases: Tangaroa Blue Foundation encourages the general public to educate and act against the release of helium balloons for promotional or private purposes.
• Provision of rubbish bins: Tangaroa Blue Foundation collaborates with remote communities to increase the number of rubbish bins, ultimately decreasing the amount of litter that might get washed into the ocean.
• Responsible management of plastic resin pellets: Plastic resin pellets are the raw form of plastic and are often spilled during transport or the manufacturing process, ending up in the ocean and contributing to the microplastic issue. We have worked with the Australian plastics industry to implement an Australian version of the Operation Clean Sweep program that offers solutions to minimise pellet loss.
Waste that doesn't exist cannot become a problem. Tangaroa Blue Foundation works with different stakeholders to promote and implement sustainable solutions to our consumerism. This can include a reduction or redesign of packaging, the promotion of alternative products to single-use plastics, recycling programs and container deposit schemes.
Some of our programs to minimise waste:
• Working with groups and initiatives to promote the reduction of single use plastics.
• Recycling whatever we can: Out of the rubbish collected on the beaches we divert as much as possible from landfill, sending it to recycling programs instead. The hard to recycle partly degraded plastic we collect in Cape York is even sent overseas for a new life as Bionic Yarn and jeans.
A single person or group is unlikely to get all these changes done. Tangaroa Blue Foundation collaborates with an extended network of stakeholders and partners: From local communities, organisations and Indigenous rangers to industry and government, we are on board to communicate the issues and make changes happen. We empower local campainers to become stewards of their own region and bring their local knowledge to the table for the greater good.
We achieve all this by:
• Providing resources and, if applicable, data to schools, organisations and governments about the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, the AMDI Database and general facts about marine debris.
• Running source reduction plan workshops that help communities formulate a specific plan that can be implemented in their situation. Here is the source reduction plan workshop video if you prefer sitting back and relax to reading yourself.
• Visiting schools and conducting presentations and training sessions for groups that want to get involved in the AMDI program. Educating the next generation is one of the best long term strategies for environmental change.