Over 1.2 milion peices of rubbish were collected around Australia's beaches and waterways in the last two years.Over 1.2 milion peices of rubbish were collected around Australia's beaches and waterways in the last two years.

In February 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a campaign dedicated to combatting and raising awareness of the global catastrophe that is plastic pollution in our seas.

Two years on and the Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign in Australia has gone from strength to strength, proving to the world that plastic pollution is a problem worth addressing for the greater good of our oceans and its inhabitants. 

The Marine Debris Campaign takes direct action on plastic which involves the physical removal of dangerous debris from our coastlines and waterways in Australia. The campaign concentrates on facilitating change within the communities of the country through education and involvement.

Every state of Australia has a Marine Debris team, oftentimes volunteers making special remote trips to places like Cocos Keeling Island off the coast of Western Australia.

In the two years since its creation, the Marine Debris Campaign has had some astounding feats. The tireless coordinators have educated hundreds upon hundreds of children and students, involved over 10,000 of locals from communities across the nation, reached tens of thousands of people online through social media, and collectively have picked up and recorded over one million items of debris.

The Big One Million: What have we achieved?

Over the past two years, we have far exceeded the one million pieces mark. In fact, we have collected a grand total of 1,233,595 items from across the country. Of the 1.2 million items we collected off the shores of the country, 80.2% was plastic. 

“Plastic kills,” Liza Dicks, Sea Shepherd Marine Debris’ national coordinator, said. “We are seeing our oceans choke under the pressure of plastic pollution at a catastrophic rate. Our beach clean ups are a hands-on effort to help ease the load off of our delicate native eco-systems.” 

It takes an army of compassionate people to collect 1.2 million items of debris, an army of exactly 10,349, over the two years of our beach clean-ups.

It hasn’t been light work. We have weighed in at a total of 22,126.97 kilograms, over 1,600 bags-full, and have covered over 77,736 meters of beach.

The Top 5: What have we been collecting?

5. Paper and Cardboard Packaging

Found in almost every household, business, or shop, paper and cardboard packaging is produced at an astonishing rate and is extraordinarily detrimental to our forests. A massive number of 57,806 was collected during our cleans.

4. Plastic Food Packaging (wrap/packets/containers)

We live in a disposable society where we would rather buy a quick meal in a plastic container than make and store one ourselves. Plastic food packaging may be one of the most frustrating items to find as they are usually branded by major food companies. We recorded 122,640 items of plastic food packaging. 

3. Plastic Film Remnants (bits of plastic bag, wrap etc.)

Soft plastic film remnants are light and small, making them easily missed by council workers, and easily picked up by wind or rain. Plastic film remnants often find their way quickly into the ocean and are often mistaken for jellyfish and ingested by turtles. We have seen dolphins suffering with plastic bags covering their blow holes, and whales ingesting unfathomable amounts of plastic bag and plastic film remnants. A total of 148,038 were recorded during our cleans.

2. Plastic Bits and Pieces (hard and solid)

It is estimated by scientists that in the coming years we will see 99% of the seabird population across the world affected by hard plastic ingestion. Plastic doesn’t break down; plastic breaks up into tiny items of plastic, often small enough to be considered micro-plastics. Small bits and pieces of hard and solid plastic came in at a total of 154,170.

1. Cigarette Butts and Filters

Cigarette butts are formed with cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, and while they are small, the several trillion estimated discarded cigarette butts around the world are having a toxic effect on our oceans. It can take up to 25 years for one cigarette butt to break down. The Sea Shepherd Marine Debris teams across Australia collected approximately 276,499 individual cigarette butts.

What Can You Do?

"We need to put the responsibility back on to the plastic manufacturers and make them accountable for their wasteful plastic production," Liza Dicks said. “We can all make a difference just by refusing single use plastic and opting for reusable alternatives.

“It can just be a small change like investing in a Keep Cup or taking your own reusable cutlery to a picnic that can make all the difference. I like the saying ‘think globally but act locally’ because change starts with us. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.”

Along with refusing, reducing, reusing, remaking, resourcing, and recycling, you can join in with your local Sea Shepherd Marine Debris team and give a hand in collecting this important data.

Our beach clean-ups continue to grow as we see huge numbers of volunteers join in each month to help keep Australia’s shorelines beautiful. You can find our clean up events on our Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SSAUBeachCleanUps/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/seashepherdmarinedebristeam/?hl=en).

They are free to join and family-friendly; we love seeing kids come along and get involved with becoming the change our local communities and eco-systems need. 

The toxic tide of plastic pollution is slowly beginning to turn, but with eight million tonnes of plastic flowing into our oceans every year the fight continues to keep our oceans plastic free.

Kimberley Bernard
Queensland Marine Debris Coordinator

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