Study finds beach rubbish a growing problem

Published 25 June 2012

A new Southern Cross University study on marine debris has found up to 160 items of debris, ranging from fishing line to bits of plastic and paper, are accumulating each day on Charlesworth Bay beach.

Over a year, that adds up to between 40,000 and 60,000 items of rubbish. Along Coffs Harbour’s coastline, from Bundagen to Red Rock, that would amount to nearly one million items of rubbish each year.

The study was conducted by Ana Markic, who has recently completed a Master of Marine Science and Management with Southern Cross University’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering. She has been working with Associate Professor Steve Smith at the National Marine Science Centre.

“In the first sampling I collected 4,044 items,” Ms Markic said.

“The study included assessments of any type of litter from human origin – plastic, metal, glass, man-made wooden items. Almost 90 per cent of the rubbish I found was plastic, so that is what we are most concerned about. Forty per cent of the debris was related to fishing activities - and most of that was fishing line.

“The other main kind of debris was consumption related, including food containers, water bottles and tobacco-related items.

“There were between 105 and 160 new items per day over the duration of the study. Extrapolated to a period of one year, this means that 40,000 to 60,000 items of debris occur on this one beach, which is only 350 metres long.”

Ms Markic said the majority of the rubbish was being washed on to the beach, and had not been left behind by beach users.

“I would suggest that it’s not debris that is washed in from afar, it’s from the coastal waters of this area and mostly from local sources,” she said.

Professor Smith said the results were startling and supported ongoing studies that indicated marine debris was increasing.

“We know that a lot of this debris is concentrated around storm water drains. Last year we noticed a 25-fold increase in debris at Park Beach and Jetty Beach and this was mostly likely caused by climatic events, such as storms and rainwater runoff through storm water,” Professor Smith.

“These local results are consistent with a really worrying global phenomenon of rapidly increasing quantities of marine debris. Many people come to Coffs Harbour to enjoy the beaches and wider marine environment. However, increasingly we are finding that the aesthetics of the beaches are being spoiled by the burgeoning loads of marine debris.

“Education is the main way to address this problem. We need to change our practices now to ensure sustainability into the future. While there’s growing community awareness of marine debris, we urgently need to turn that awareness into action. We are championing the cause through the National Marine Science Centre, but everybody needs to do their bit to reduce the quantities of debris reaching our marine environment.”

Ana Markic with some of the debris, including fishing line, she has collected from the beach at Charlesworth Bay.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University, head of Communications and Publications, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.