750 metres of discarded fishing rope removed from Western Australia's ‘Humpback Highway’

Sunday, 10 Jul, 2022

Over three days, a group of four Sea Shepherd volunteers cleared a total of 228kgs of trash from an idyllic 8.2km stretch of beaches outside of Jurien Bay: a small coastal town located 220km north of Perth, Western Australia.

Among the debris was a staggering volume of lost or discarded fishing gear including 750 metres of crayfish pot rope as well as floats and bait boxes. Sea Shepherd's Remote Marine Debris Campaigner Liza Dicks said the amount of fishing-related debris on such a pristine and protected beach is distressing.

Some of the rope collected from Jurien Bay

"It washes up onto hundreds of kilometres of beaches north of Perth and out to the Abrolhos Islands. A few years ago a whale dragged fishing gear entangled around its tail all the way to Exmouth where it was spotted by researchers. It really is not acceptable that pollution from recreational fishing or industry risks the lives of marine life."

- Liza Dicks, Remote Marine Debris Campaigner
A whale with fishing gear entangled around its tail

Marine Life at Jurien Bay

Jurien Bay's Marine Park was established in 2003 and is home to a unique and extensive limestone reef system and abundant marine life. 

The park contains the only breeding area for Australian sea lions on Australia’s Western Coast. Australian sea lions are one the rarest species in the world and female sea lions will only return to breed on the island of their birth.

"To see the impact plastic pollution is having in this idyllic place I grew up in is heartbreaking. We watched endangered Australian Sea Lions every single day from the beach. On a previous clean-up we saw a dead male bull on the shore next to a large pile of plastic film. That same patch was there again in the sea, but this year it was even bigger”.

- Nikki Howsen, Sea Shepherd volunteer & Jurien Bay clean-up organiser

In the waters off Jurien Bay, an estimated 30,000 humpback whales pass along the coastline each year on the West Coast’s ‘humpback highway’. These much-loved ocean giants are primarily a coastal species when migrating and are often visible from the shore.

Each year, approximately 30,000 humpback whales migrate along the WA coastline. Photo: Solenne Belle

In addition to seals and whales, the park has several magnificent island nature reserves that are important breeding areas for seabirds including fairy terns and osprey.

While cleaning the area, Sea Shepherd crew were lucky to see Pacific gulls, bait fish and sea lions each day, and a pod of dolphins was spotted close to the beach. 

Tragically, discarded fishing gear poses a significant risk to marine wildlife, including whales. In May this year, a sub-adult humpback whale was found heavily entangled in what was believed to be crab pots from New South Wales. A source from the rescue team that freed the whale said that the gear was so embedded in its flesh that the animal would have been dragging the attached nets and buoys for at least six months.

"Removing more than 750 metres of rope on a relatively small stretch of coastline during the whale migration means we are protecting them from possible entanglement as well as the resident sea lion population and dolphins that are regularly spotted close to the beach.”

- Liza Dicks, Remote Marine Debris Campaigner

Findings from the clean-up

In addition to the discarded fishing gear collected, consumer plastic items such as water bottles, pharmaceutical products, water cups, and broken-up plastic pieces were also removed from the beach. Many of these items displayed labels from other countries, suggesting that they most likely travelled south on the ‘Leeuwin current’. This current is a body of warm, tropical water that originates up around the Indonesian archipelago near the equator. The current flows down the Western Australian coastline bringing the larvae of corals, fish and - unfortunately - marine plastics. 

More than 100 pieces of degraded plastic film floating in the sea, trapped by seaweed, was retrieved by a volunteer wading in the cold water. Much of this plastic had clearly been in the marine environment for some time and displayed bite marks from fish and possibly turtles.


A volunteer holds up abandoned fishing gear collected from the beach.
A volunteer removing plastic film and other debris from the ocean.
The volunteers cleaned 8.2km of beach.
Working together, four volunteers cleared a total of 228kgs of trash.
Fishing debris collected during the clean-up.
Consumer items found during the clean-up.
Jurien Bay's Marine Park was established in 2003.
The debris collected is removed from Jurien Bay.
The 750m of discarded rope collected.
The volunteers at the end up the three-day Jurien Beach clean-up.

The recent clean-up on Jurien Bay is Sea Shepherd’s second remote clean-up in the area. During the first clean-up in 2019, large amounts of discarded fishing waste and plastics remaining from the late 1980s were recovered.

Join the fight against plastic pollution

Every weekend, Sea Shepherd hosts community clean-ups all around the country. 

Since 2016, passionate volunteers have removed over seven million pieces of trash from Australian beaches.


Sea Shepherd acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Yued Region, the Noongar and Yamatji People. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

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