Over the last week, a section of Victoria’s pristine coastline - which plays home to a Southern Right Whale Nursery, a nesting ground for Plovers and Fairy Penguins - has been contaminated with thousands of small microplastics called nurdles. The tiny plastic pellets have been reported sweeping up on beaches in vast numbers, covering an area from Warrnambool to Port Fairy, in south-west Victoria.
“It is an environmental disaster for seabirds and all marine life when microplastics are released into waterways and oceans,” Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Coordinator Liza Dicks said.
“Thanks to members of the public who spotted the nurdles on the beaches and alerted authorities, a clean-up mission was instigated,” Liza added.
“The spill was traced back to the nearby Warrnambool Sewerage Treatment Plant, owned and operated by Wannon Water who have since reported the nurdles were illegally dumped in the system two weeks ago. When Wannon Water were made aware of the spill they inspected their plant and removed millions of nurdles from the plant’s tanks and other infrastructure, preventing these from entering the ocean environment,” Liza said.
On Thursday, November 30 the spill was escalated to a Class 2 Emergency under Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley.
Local Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Coordinators Sue Topaz and Andrew Holt have coordinated two emergency community clean-ups in an effort to remove as many of the nurdles as possible.
This incident has galvanized the support of many concerned members of the public - including some Sea Shepherd volunteers from as far away as Melbourne – and their tireless efforts using sieves, buckets and their bare hands have resulted in thousands of nurdles being removed from the beaches. Yesterday, volunteers from Sea Shepherd focused their Call To Action on Shelly Beach in Warrnambool.
Sue and Andrew conduct regular beach cleans in the area as part of Sea Shepherd’s Marine Debris Campaign and are active conservationists. Sue reported that this is not the first time they have seen something of this nature. A few months ago, thousands of plastic cotton bud sticks washed up on the beach and a report was made to the Environmental Protection Agency Victoria. We are still waiting to hear the outcome of this report and no further information as to where these came from or how they arrived on the beach has been received.
As for the current nurdle spill, Wannon Water continues to investigate the source of the nurdles illegally dumped in the Warrnambool sewerage system, and is working as part of a multi-agency response to support the community clean-up efforts including those organised by Sea Shepherd. We will keep you informed of any further developments and any proposed clean-ups.
In November 2016 Sea Shepherd Australia’s Marine Debris Campaign was also part of an emergency community clean-up mission for nurdles which had contaminated the Swan River in North Fremantle, Perth and a year later we are still finding these in our microplastic surveys at local beaches.
“Volunteers from Sea Shepherd Australia will continue to assist with the Warrnambool clean-up and monitor the numbers removed by conducting citizen science surveys along this stretch of Victoria’s coastline during the coming months,” Liza added.
- The small micro plastics called nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets used to manufacture all plastic items.
- Nurdles come in many colours and shapes, packaged into sacks and transported in containers around the globe to be distributed to manufactures. These tiny pellets are the size of a lentil are made from oil and other toxic chemicals and processed into all the things we use that are plastic.
- In the ocean nurdles resemble eggs and are mistaken by fish and seabirds as food.
- When ingested the toxic pellets block intestinal tracts which results in eventual death of the animal due to malnutrition.
- Microplastic spills are a disaster for wildlife and better laws and procedures should be put in place whilst they are big transported and at the manufacturing plants to ensure non escape into the drains.
- Nurdles are impossible to contain and once released into to the marine environment can be taken out to sea to drift endlessly on ocean currents.