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By Heidi Taylor – Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Marine debris is pollution that affects almost every waterway, beach and ocean around the world, but when we start to look at what marine debris is actually made from and where it comes from, there’s not just one simple answer or solution.

That’s what inspired Tangaroa Blue Foundation to launch the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI), and with the help and support of over 50 Far North QLD communities, Land & Sea Ranger teams, school groups, businesses and government agencies, we’ve started to create a picture of what marine debris across Northern Australia looks like and where it is coming from.

Volunteers at the 2013 Chilli Beach Clean Up and the 4,575 thongs recovered from 6.5km of beach

Volunteers at the 2013 Chilli Beach Clean Up and the 4,575 thongs recovered from 6.5km of beach

While it is difficult to estimate the total amount, accumulation rates and replenishing frequency of marine debris, there is a good understanding of the origin, volume and composition of waste across Northern Australia, particularly in Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands where data has been regularly collected from over 40 clean-up sites. In some remote areas the vast majority of marine debris recorded is sea-based waste (up to 90%), arriving onto the coastline from the ocean rather than from local sources (e.g. campsites or tips), and a large proportion of this rubbish originated from foreign areas. Many marine debris items are easily identified from appearance and labels, and much of the waste found has travelled from countries close-by such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and other parts of south-east Asia.

In areas closer to towns the amount of sea-based waste is lower (usually around 60-70%) with a higher proportion coming from land-based rubbish (litter). In total the AMDI data indicates that quantities of marine debris in some remote locations can be as high as 3000 kg of waste per kilometre, but is typically around 65 kg/km when averaged across the region.

So if marine debris is coming from different countries, what can we do about it? Data shows that most clean-up sites have some marine debris coming from a local source. So we encourage communities to look at creating a local Source Reduction Plan, to reduce marine debris coming from local sources. Then by contributing data from clean-up events to Tangaroa Blue Foundation, communities are assisting in showing the extent to which marine debris from other locations is impacting Northern Australia. This data is used for reports which are used to engage with government agencies and industries to create Source Reduction Plans which are based on state, federal and international levels, but result in cleaner beaches everywhere.

A big thank you to all our partners across Australia – The AMDI Database now holds more than 2.4 million pieces of data from over 1040 sites across Australia. If you are interested in finding out more about the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, contact Heidi Taylor at info@nulltangaroablue.org or visiting the website www.tangaroablue.org