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May 9, 2021

Stop trashing the coastline, says CSIRO

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Plastic bags are a danger to marine wildlife and should be banned, activists say. (file pic)
Plastic bags are a danger to marine wildlife and should be banned, activists say. (file pic)

CSIRO’s marine debris team are calling on Australians to do the right thing with their rubbish, with new research highlighting the nation’s ocean and coastal pollution issues.

The research, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, showed the coastline from Brisbane to Melbourne, western coast of Tasmania and the southern part of Western Australia to be the worst hot spots.

‘More than eight million tonnes of rubbish finds its way into the worlds’ oceans each year,’ CSIRO principal research scientist Chris Wilcox said. ‘While about one million tonnes is out floating in the ocean, the rest ends up on the shore.

‘Apart from looking ugly, it causes significant harm to wildlife with about half of all seabirds and 30 per cent of sea turtles found to have eaten plastic. We think turtles eat plastic bags because they look like jellyfish in the water and with seabirds it’s the smell of plastic which takes on a krill-like smell in the water.’

The research showed that while marine debris was a global issue, a significant amount of the litter found in a region had originated from the local area.

‘Our research shows that in most cases, communities are being affected by their own rubbish, not the big rubbish gyre out in the middle of the ocean or rubbish from a neighbouring country,’ Dr Wilcox said. ‘This means that we are the cause but also the solution.

‘While up to 40 per cent of litter found during clean-up activities are beverage containers, things like discarded fishing equipment are also common culprits. Our new research shows this is the case in western Tasmania with a large amount of the debris found to have been coming from fishing.’

More than 600 marine species have been found eating plastic. As many as 15,000 turtles are caught in dumped fishing gear in northern Australia every year, and 8.4 million tonnes of rubbish lands in the world’s oceans each year.

The Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper can be accessed at bit.ly/mdebris. The Ballina-based seabird and turtle rescue group is at seabirdrescue.org.


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