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Orpheus Island Beach Clean-ups Proving Successful!

2017 OI 1Orpheus Island Beach Clean-ups Proving Successful!: signs of declining marine debris

Written by: Jesse Rheinlander (volunteer) and Vanessa Carey (coordinator)

It’s been a week since Tangaroa Blue Foundation and a team of 12 dedicated volunteers set out from Lucinda towards Orpheus Island. From November 18th to 22nd their mission was to relieve a section of the windward stretch of coast from the burden of discarded and forgotten marine debris. Upon arrival the team was greeted by staff from the Orpheus Island Research Station as well as 6 additional volunteers who were in the right place at the right time to lend a helping hand in protecting our saltwater country.

The Tangaroa Blue team traversed eastward over the island’s peak to find the stony beaches littered with a rainbow of fragmented plastics and larger items such as plastic drums, buckets, and fishing gear including ropes, nets, a 4m tinny and an anchor completed with 2 outboard motors. Over the course of three days, the debris from Fig Tree and Big Rock bays were collected and analyzed for the Australian Marine Debris Database, amounting to a grand total of 690.9kg.

Although a daunting task at first, many hands made for light work and the volunteers grasped the methodology of collecting marine debris data quite quickly, leaving some time on the final day to clear the 63kg from Pioneer Bay, and for reconnaissance of potential clean-up sites around the island for next year’s trip.

2017 OI 2Data analysis shows an annual decline in marine debris quantities since July 2014, when Fig Tree accumulated 630kg of marine debris which dropped to 345.6kg in July 2015 and declined again to 142.6kg in April 2016. Big Rock bay was first targeted in July 2015 collecting 646.5kg with a drop to 363kg in April 2016.

It’s been 19 months since Fig Tree and Big Rock bays were cleaned so, there were great expectations of finding high debris loads scattered along the shorelines, especially since the region only recently experienced 32 knot south easterly winds. However, upon visual analysis it appeared our expectations exceeded the reality as the debris load was only approximately 100kg more than last year’s clean-up, amounting to 224.7kg from Fig Tree and 466.2kg from Big Rock in November 2017.

Overall, according to the Australiana Marine Debris Database, Tangaroa Blue’s community clean-ups are having a positive impact on Orpheus Island’s shorelines, and the health and safety of local wildlife that reside offshore. Marine debris is an ever persisting and always compounding product of human society, and for many first-time volunteers, this trip solidified an understanding of the need to reduce. “The problem of plastics in our oceans”, said one volunteer “was really driven home to me when I watched plastic bottles crumble into smaller pieces in front of my eyes as I tried to remove them!”

Plastics break up over time into ingestible sizes and becomes unavoidable to marine life – thus biomagnifying into our human food chain. Add to this, discarded fishing gear and floating rope nets and it is clear that our consumption is fast becoming the demise of our oceans.

This event was part of the Devolved Community Landcare Grant supported by NQ Dry Tropics through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. The event also acknowledges our partners, James Cook University’s Orpheus Island Research Station and Absolute North Charters who are annually involved in our Orpheus endeavors. Thank you to our Tangaroa Blue Foundation Coordinators Vanessa Carey and Matthew Wheldon, and of course to our devoted clean-up crew helping care for our oceans.