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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Shearwaters decimated by plastic

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G Rudwick, Port Willunga, SA

On Thursday night, September 6, ABC’s Catalyst showed a short yet riveting segment about the Shearwater birds of Lord Howe Island.

The riveting part was the autopsy being performed on a dead baby Shearwater bird.

In gashing open the tiny belly, the researcher was able to reveal for the camera and for us the shocking contents. He counted 123 tiny coloured and clear pieces of plastic and metal clumped in a mucous mass in the distended belly sac.

The researcher explained that the mother Shearwater, still with her instinct to feed her young, hunted in the ocean for seemingly bright and living matter for her offspring.

So great is the number and variety of dead plastics and metals that she was, no doubt, satisfying her instinct to keep her chicks alive.

Her hunting ground is dying, replaced by the ever-increasing middens of bright and deadly plastics and metals that are spawned from our hapless waste and neglectful disposal of consumer items.

This could seem dramatic. It’s just the raw truth. These dead Shearwater chicks litter the island’s forest and beaches.

Today at the crack of dawn we drove along an urbanised north coast river and on three picnic tables was the abandoned evidence of last night’s end-of-week celebrations.

We counted 30 beer bottles and endless empty ‘cordial’ liquor stubbies.

Coming from South Australia, I wanted to swoop on all the litter and cash it in for 10 and 20 cents a piece. Each time I see plastic bottles on the verges, in the garbage, along the highways and scattered in the parks and on the beaches of the north coast – I do a mental tally of what the stash is worth. It’s a lot of money. Empties are definitely worth cashing in.

Taking one’s personal shopping bag to the supermarket, produce markets and all other merchant outlets is definitely worth it in SA. Those friendly fabric bags we cart around with us save us many dollars in any given week, since all plastic bags have to be purchased in SA.

It’s clever. It’s simple and the transition, as we were a part of it, was seamless.

South Australian waters are listed as some of the cleanest and safest for the large fishing industry, for the holiday makers and the residents.

I was born and raised beside the Pacific Ocean; we were tarred with zinc cream, surfed all day, drank Passiona and milk shakes and happily knew that some one or other of the menfolk would come home having caught fish for dinner.

The Shearwater chicks were safe then.

And now?

Perhaps as New South Welshmen and women we might put our shoulders to the wheel for the implementation, across the state, of two simple and achievable ocean-saving, life-giving strategies:

1. deposit on bottles and cans to be refunded when handed back

2. 20 cent charge on plastic shopping bags.

We are in the same food chain with the baby Shearwaters!

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. All states should bring this in but it seems to be too “difficult” for our governments to handle. It would be environmentally sound on a lot of levels – recyclables not wasted in land fill, creating employment, income for those who wish to pick up litter as well as preventing marine pollution. Councils who have their tips in coastal areas often have rubbish blowing around, I am sure some of that is part of the problem. Also, a USA warship threw out heaps of garbage off of Caloundra QLD some years ago and apparently it was perfectly legal; so, globally, how many ships would be throwing their garbage in the water as well? (Australian’s aren’t allowed to do so and cruise ships keep theirs on board)

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