Map reveals major problem on Australia's beaches

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

Marine debris choking Australian beaches has been mapped using 10 years of data to help scientists understand the source of the growing problem.

Litterers were pinpointed by University of NSW researchers as being responsible for an astounding 40 per cent of the rubbish collected, with the majority believed to have originated close to capital cities.

Only seven per cent of debris was found to have been dumped at sea, the study published in Science of the Total Environment concluded.

A map reveals the debris averaged per clean-up site around Australia's coastline. Source: UNSW
A map reveals the debris averaged per clean-up site around Australia's coastline. Source: UNSW

Plastic was by far the most commonly found item, accounting for 84 per cent of all rubbish collected, however 42 per cent proved impossible to identify due to degradation.

The result is unsurprising, with Australians using around 3.4 million tonnes of plastic every year, of which only around 12 per cent is recycled.

It is estimated that in just four years 99 per cent of sea birds will have ingested plastic and by 2050 it will outweigh the fish left in our seas. 

State has significantly higher amounts of cigarette litter

The project involved 2000 organisations and 150,000 volunteers who worked with not-for-profit Tangaroa Blue Foundation to sort the trash, and then input findings into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) database which now contains close to 20 million entries.

NSW’s coast was found to have three times the number of cigarette butts when compared to the national average, while large amounts of fishing debris were found in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia.

The AMDI Database has accumulated almost 20 million entries. Source: Getty / File
The AMDI Database has accumulated almost 20 million entries. Source: Getty / File

The study’s lead author and PhD candidate, Jordan Gacutan said remote Cape York in Queensland was being impacted by “huge amounts of debris” believed to be coming from external sources.

“For example, floats and plastic bottles that might have been dumped both at sea or floated from other countries,” he said.

“We know that Cape York is very, very remote so the amount of plastic we’re finding on beaches isn’t contributed by the people living there.”

Litter study could help ensure mitigation efforts a success

Tangaroa Blue Foundation CEO Heidi Tait said she hopes the study paves the way for researchers to be able to chart the impact of mitigation strategies and ensure efforts are actually effective.

“If you look at what’s currently happening internationally with discussions around global treaties on plastic, nationally with the National Plastics Plan, and state government plans to address single-use plastics: how are we going to measure those to make sure that those policies are having impact?,” she said.

“For example, if a Global Treaty on Plastics is formalised through the United Nations, we should see the 95 per cent of international marine debris we find in Cape York decrease in the future, if this treaty is successful.”

with AAP

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