'Sickening': The sacred and remote beach clogged with tonnes of plastic

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer

This sacred Aussie beach is so remote it should be pristine.

Instead it is covered in plastic.

These are the alarming photos that show waste from millions of household items clogging Djulpan Beach in North Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Toothbrushes, cigarette lighters and thongs were collected, grouped and sorted by Sea Shepherd volunteers and rangers from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.

In total, more than 4.5 tonnes of plastic debris and 2.5 tonnes of fishing line were collected from the beach over a period of two weeks.

A woman stands among household plastic collected from a Northern Territory beach.
Household plastic collected from Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd

The area is so remote rangers had to create a four-wheel drive track to reach it and most of the plastic had arrived by ocean currents.

A survey of the 14-kilometre stretch resulted in an estimate that 250 million pieces of debris were scattered in the sand.

Many of the plastic items contained bites from marine animals and fish.

Indigenous ranger Yama Banu Dhimurru told Yahoo News Australia the area was sacred to the Gumatj clan and contains important songlines and hunting grounds.

An Indigenous ranger walks along a remote sand dune in Northern Arnhem Land.
An Indigenous ranger from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation walks along Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd
A pile of thousands of multicoloured lighters collected from Djulpan Beach.
A pile of lighters collected from Djulpan Beach by volunteers and rangers. Source: Sea Shepherd

Songlines, sometimes called dreaming tracks, are literal paths across the country linked to Indigenous stories, songs and dances.

“For me personally, it [feels] very heartbreaking and very sickening just to see the amount of plastic and the amount of rubbish all over the beach,” he said.

“Some of our turtles nest at that beach too and it’s hard for them to nest while there’s heaps of plastic around.

“It’s just very sad.”

An aerial photo of Djulpan Beach in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
From a distance, Djulpan Beach in the Gulf of Carpentaria looks unspoilt. Source: Sea Shepherd

‘We don’t have songlines for plastic’

Mr Dhimurru said cultural practices including hunting are being affected by the plastic as the small team of rangers struggles to deal with the pollution.

“Turtles and all the other marine mammals, they’re a part of our culture and a part of our living as well,” he said.

“[They’re] a food source, our totems....

“We’ve got songlines for the different animals, but we don’t have songlines for plastic.”

A pile of hundreds of disposable razors and toothbrushes picked up from Djulpan Beach.
Toothbrushes and disposable razors collected from Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd
A still of a Skype interview with Indigenous ranger Yama Banu Dhimurra and Liza Dicks from Sea Shepherd.
Yama Banu Dhimurru and Liza Dicks talk to Yahoo News Australia about plastic on Djulpan Beach. Source: Yahoo News Australia

Liza Dicks, from Sea Shepherd, told Yahoo News Australia more needs to be done to help the Indigenous rangers deal with the waste.

“There are 10 rangers and they’re struggling to keep up with this huge inundation of plastic that’s arriving on their beaches all the time,” she said.

“We went, ‘Oh my God, this is so bad. What can we do to help you?’” she said.

The Sea Shepherd volunteers reported they had never seen such a large amount of plastic on an Australian beach.

Volunteers pick up rubbish and put it into sacks on the beach on the left. A man with a Sea Shepherd logo on his shirt hands a sack of rubbish to an Indigenous ranger on the back of a ute on the right.
Bags full of plastic are collected from Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd
An aerial view of lighters, bottle caps, oil bottles and other items collected from Djulpan Beach.
An aerial view of lighters, bottle caps, oil bottles and other items collected from Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd

Along with the household items, the teams also picked up 2.5 tonnes of fishing nets, some littered with turtle bones.

Ms Dicks would like to see governments and manufacturers do more to reduce plastic, but said consumers must also take responsibility.

A shoe and other household items strewn across the sand. A figure in the background picks up trash.
A shoe and other household items strewn across Djulpan Beach. Source: Sea Shepherd

”We can all take responsibility for what we use,” she said.

“[We must] use plastic as little as we can in our lives.

”We can reuse items, repurpose them – we can use reusable bags and straws.”

“Even though this problem seems overwhelming to many of us, it’s not something that we can’t solve and we can’t change.”

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