Top End Turtle Nesting Beach Trashed by Plastic Pollution

Wednesday, 29 Jul, 2020

Demonstrating what can be achieved when you unite to protect the oceans and marine life, Sea Shepherd and the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation of Northeast Arnhem Land, have again joined forces for a remote beach clean-up campaign at Djulpan in the Northern Territory.

Sea Shepherd volunteers and Dhimurru Rangers on Djulpan

Around 2.5 hours from the nearest town, Djulpan is culturally significant for the Yolgnu people but tragically this isolated and beautiful stretch of coastline is inundated by marine plastic pollution. This area along the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria is also an important nesting ground for six of the seven species of marine turtles which are listed as either endangered or vulnerable.

When the Sea Shepherd crew and Rangers returned to Djulpan for the second year, they were more determined than ever to free the sacred shoreline of Djulpan of trash. Despite the heat and long days together they removed 12.1 tonnes of debris including consumer plastics and large fishing nets from 8.5 kilometres of beach. This surpassed the previous year’s achievement of 7.1 tonnes from 4 kilometre of beach. 

Liza Dicks, Arnhem Campaign Leader said the volume and density of debris was still a shock to the 11 experienced Sea Shepherd volunteers, many of whom had returned to Djulpan for a second time. 

Most surprising to the team on the first day was the astonishing sight of Djulpan covered with dozens and dozens of turtle tracks and nests.

“We knew what we were in for this year and unfortunately came prepared to see the shoreline devastated with plastic. What we weren’t expecting was the number of nests and turtle tracks up and down the beach, which gave us the inspiration and greater determination to cover more ground and remove debris from this critical sea turtle nesting habitat.”

- Arnhem Campaign Leader Liza Dicks
Turtle tracks on Djulpan beach

Seeing so many turtle nests on the areas of Djulpan cleaned last year demonstrates that beach clean-ups make a direct difference for marine life. Our clean-ups have one goal - to remove as much plastic pollution as possible to give immediate relief to the area’s marine life.

Sadly, whilst cleaning up the beach the crew came across a number of turtles that had died as a result of debris including turtle hatchlings trapped in plastic containers and turtles found entangled in fishing nets. 

A dead baby sea turtle found trapped inside a plastic container

Female turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs were documented navigating through plastic debris as they dug their nests. This shows the devastating impact and consequences that plastic is having on wildlife.

Volunteers also found evidence of animals biting or eating the plastic – clear bite marks were discovered from turtles and fish on a range of plastic packaging but notably, most bites were found on either food or personal care items.

Inspections and surveys of the remote 14-kilometre length of Djulpan found the entire coastal strip affected by pollution. Areas in and around the rocky outcrops were hardest hit with the high densities of broken plastic and fishing nets. The surveys also revealed there was a material difference in the first 2 kilometres of beach from last year – but still 50% of the debris had returned to Djulpan in a year. 

While seeing all this plastic is devastating, it also shows that beach cleans are key strategic tool in reducing plastic accumulation and giving protection to marine life in remote coastal areas. 

“It is a remarkable achievement by the hard working crew and Dhimurru Rangers that over a tonne of trash and nets were removed from the beach each day over the 10 days at Djulpan.”

- Arnhem Campaign Leader Liza Dicks

For Sea Shepherd, with our partnership with Dhimurru becoming stronger and our cultural and environmental outcomes becoming greater, we are looking forward to returning to Djulpan in October 2020 to achieve even more together.

When good people come together, ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary, for the benefit of our oceans and future generations.

View images from our 2019 Arnhem clean-up:

Sorting and counting the items form the data survey area
Evidence of animals eating plastic were found everyday
Entangled in nets, a dead juvenile turtle
Plastic pollution was strewn across Djulpan as far as you could see
Volunteers and rangers taking direct action together to protect the marine environment
Small pieces of plastic displaying bite marks found by a Dhimurru Ranger
Volunteers and rangers remove a huge net trapped in the rocks
Plastic bottles were one of the biggest single items found
Scientific surveys are used to estimate the total plastic loading along a beach
Sea Shepherd volunteers counting and categorising the date from the surveys
Trash swept up high into the back beach areas
Keeping the beach safe for turtles to come ashore and nest
Turtle hatchling found dead amongst the plastic debris
Over three tonnes of fishing nets were removed from Djulpan in 2019
Turtle hatchling and crab die after being trapped in a plastic container
Dhimurru Rangers are faced with a never ending task of cleaning the beaches to protect their cultural lands
86 different types of nets were seen along the beach
Plastic bottles showing bites from marine life
One of the many piles of ghostnets washed ashore at Djulpan
Over a tonne of trash a day was removed by Rangers and Sea Shepherd volunteers
Loading nets onto the utes is tiring and strenuous work
Rangers and Sea Shepherd volunteers celebrating a fantastic result with 8.5 kms of beach freed of plastic pollution
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