When category 5 Tropical Cyclone Marcia hit the Capricorn Coast near Rockhampton on February 20th 2015, it not only did extensive damage to countless houses, infrastructure and surrounding bushland, but also washed huge amounts of rubbish into the ocean and then dumped it back onto beaches, together with other ocean borne debris.
Last week, whilst cyclone-stricken residents are still focussing on getting back on track, seven crew members from Tangaroa Blue and eight Indigenous rangers from around Queensland headed down to assist in the clean-up effort, specifically targeting the enormous amount of marine debris that has been washed up along beaches near Yeppoon.
To get an understanding of the extend of the damage done by the cyclone Heidi Taylor and a small crew got airborne in a helicopter and photographed around 67 sites along local beaches and islands to gauge the levels of marine debris. From this information a rating system was used, taking the state of the pollution, the accessibility of the beach and the conservation status into account to decide which of the sites would be priorities for current and future clean-ups.
For the next four days the team stuck their hands in gloves and into the piles of plastic to remove what they could. Whilst the local fitness club removed a washed up pontoon and Busby Contractors sorted logistics to remove an 8m catamaran wreck, the team tackled three different stretches of coastline, from local Farnborough beach to 9 Mile Beach near Byfield to Freshwater Beach in the Shoalwater Bay Defence Training Area.
The debris along some beaches was so dense that it piled up on top of each other, often forming colourful waves amongst the mountains of grey pumice stone that had also washed ashore. This was not about picking up single items any more, this was about scooping up rubbish with both hands and filling bag after bag in a never-seen-before speed. When 30 people remove over 700 kg of rubbish from just 700 m of beach (this equals over 1 kg of debris per metre of beach!) in one long day you know that you have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done!
As always, the most common item in the oh-no-not-again-category were broken bits of hard plastic, followed by rope, net scraps and lids & bottle caps. In the look-what-I-found-category were boat hulls, tyres and a toilet seat. And in the quick-call-000-category was one of those infamous silver canisters containing aluminium phosphide that can be fatal if inhaled or ingested. In other words: this crew covered it all.
Looking after this country is an effort shared by people from many different backgrounds. The helping hands were as diverse as the rubbish collected. For one day, Tangaroa Blue teamed up with Dharumbal Traditional Owners including 11 children. Aunty Nicki from the Dharumbal people welcomed everyone to their country, guided the team and spoiled them with a delicious lunch. In exchange, the juniors from Rockhampton got to work and bond with the Indigenous rangers form Cardwell, East Trinity and Bundaberg. And when presents were exchanged during the farewell ceremony everyone knew that this cultural experience meant more than just cleaning up a beach.
On the last day, about 20 volunteers from the local community pitched in to clean the main beach in Yeppoon and were treated to a barbeque for their efforts.
What the crew achieved in these amazing four days would have never been possible without the support of many people and organisations. Our thanks goes to the Indigenous rangers from Djunbunji, Girringun and Gidarjil, to cameraman Christian Miller, to the Dharumbal Traditional Owners, the local on-ground support team – Shelly McArdle, John McGrath, Livingstone Shire Council, Fitzroy Basin Association, Fitzroy River & Coastal Catchments, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the funding support through the Federal Government's Reef Trust program.