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Dead baby turtle found in 12 tonnes of rubbish removed from beach

Distressing photos, showing a hatchling sea turtle caught in a plastic bottle, are just the tip the iceberg when it comes to plastic pollution at a remote Australian beach.

A staggering 12.1 tonnes of trash was removed from Djulpan in the Northern Territory, despite a clean-up taking place in the area just once year prior.

On Tuesday, Sea Shepherd revealed that 1402 bags were filled with plastic, collected from an 8.5km of beach by their volunteers who worked with Indigenous Rangers from Dhimurru over a week in October.

Against a beach backdrop, a volunteer holds up a dead sea turtle found entangled in netting.
A volunteer holds up a dead sea turtle found entangled in netting. Source: Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd campaigner Liza Dicks said while the impact of netting is well-known, it was surprising how much of the rubbish was consumer plastic.

She says she felt “overwhelmed” after finding dead wildlife including crabs and turtles that had been trapped inside plastic bottles which bore the names of well-known multinational brands.

Volunteers’ plan to solve ‘huge problem’

To help combat this, when volunteers able to return to the beach for a third time, they plan on documenting the companies whose litter appears most frequently.

“We hear a lot about nets in the ocean, how they're entangling and trapping wildlife, which is a huge problem,” Ms Dicks told Yahoo News Australia.

“But equally I don't think people are aware of the connection of plastic actually on the beach killing baby turtles, crabs and other marine life.

“It's their habitat, it's their home, they’re crawling across the plastic, they fall in, and they're trapped and they can't get out again.”

Split screen. Left - a dead turtle inside a plastic bottle. Right - a live baby sea turtle on the beach.
While volunteers were pleased to see turtle hatchlings, they were dismayed to see some had been killed by plastic. Source: Sea Shepherd

Ms Dicks believes the amount of plastic household waste collected indicates recycling systems across the globe are not working.

Finding sea turtles nesting in the area has made her determined to return to the area to prevent further deaths, but only once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Remote communities inundated by waste they didn’t create

Despite not being responsible for the waste, it is remote communities that are being inundated due to ocean currents.

Split screen. Left - tracks across a beach. Right - piles of plastic on the beach.
Turtle tracks were found on the beach, running through the plastic waste. Source: Sea Shepherd

Turtles have a significant place in the local culture, and seeing them killed by plastic can be heartbreaking.

Dhimurru Senior Cultural Advisor Rrawun Maymuru reflected on how the rubbish is impacting his community, describing how it is at odds with local culture.

“This country of Northeast Arnhem Land has got its own songline and we don’t sing about plastic,” he said.

“We don’t sing about the water coming in with plastic.

“This is not in our lore.”

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