Thousands of consumer waste items including plastic bags, drink bottles, and cigarette butts were scooped up from 33 beaches last year as part of the federal government funded ReefClean program.
Broken plastic bits were the most common item found, according to the report (pdf) on May 5, making up nearly 60 percent of the litter collected. The next top items found were plastic lids, and foam from beach items like pool noodles.
ReefClean is a five-year project aimed at removing Australia’s marine debris and the first year’s results were recorded in the report.
According to the report, debris poses a huge threat to marine and bird life including turtles, dugongs, dolphins, coral, and reef ecosystems. The main ways marine debris causes wildlife death is entanglement in nets and ingestion of plastic.
A team of more than 4,000 volunteers regularly monitored beaches, ran 49 community cleanups, and presented educational activities in schools and events to inform people of which items threaten the reef the most.
The ReefClean project continued to patrol beaches amid the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, implementing social distancing strategies.
The report also showed that almost all debris found in remote areas came from overseas, carried in by tides and storms. An example would be the fishing and shipping waste found on the remote beaches of Cape York, a large remote peninsula. The data provided support for government-level actions to be made.
The report will be used to “inform source reduction planning at a local level and enable the monitoring of government policies and initiatives at regional and higher levels”.
All information is collected in the Australia Marine Debris Initiative Database, allowing sources to be traced and prevented or mitigated from returning to the Reef and waterways in the future.