A major clean-up is underway along Australia's east coast after "millions" of polystyrene balls washed up onto the sand.
Alison Foley from environmental group Ten Little Pieces said polystyrene balls are "highly toxic" to marine life and other animals, with particular concern held for turtles just days into nesting season.
"It resembles fish eggs, and it's very easily ingested by turtles," Alison told Yahoo News Australia on Sunday.
Polystyrene 'truly' toxic to animals
"It's horrible stuff. It is truly toxic and it will last in our environment pretty much forever," she added. "So it's very much a matter of capturing as much as we can as quickly as we can."
Where it came from remains under investigation, but Alison and other authorities believe it's likely an ocean source. Alison said the volume of balls suggests it's "industrial level," meaning it's likely falling from a ship's container, although it can't yet be confirmed.
The clean-up has continued well into Sunday, with volunteers now battling extremely windy conditions. It's been a difficult operation, the council's local disaster coordinator Bill Haddrill told the ABC. "It's not easy to to pick them all up," he said.
Community comes together for major clean-up
Photos and videos shared on Facebook by community and environmental groups show the white beads scattered along the beaches. While it's "quite isolated at the moment," Alison said there are possibly "million" of "fairly large" balls that are now sinking into the stand.
"The community has really stepped up very quickly because they've been through this before," Alison said, referencing the "white spill" disaster following Queensland's 2022 floods. The disaster saw eight large pontoons wash north from Brisbane and on to Noosa's eastern beaches. In the process, millions of polystyrene beads were released across Noosa's beaches, creating the 'white spill' pollution disaster
"It's pretty phenomenal to have been witnessing the community response," Alison said. In the coming weeks, Alison asks visitors to keep an eye out for any remaining beads on the beach, and "please pick it up".
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