Ocean plastics washing ashore at Ningaloo

Thursday, 19 Nov, 2020

Sea Shepherd Australia’s Marine Debris Campaign crew conducting a remote clean-up at the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Coast have exposed an unusual hotspot for plastic and tragically witnessed the effects of plastic pollution on marine life.

Nine volunteers spent several days at Janes Bay in the Ningaloo Marine Sanctuary, cleaning and surveying the beach area removing 33,000 pieces trash as well as conducting a brand and plastic waste audit as part of a global polluters brand audit. 

The Ningaloo Coast, located 1,100 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia is recognised for its diverse and abundant marine life including humpback whales, dolphins, sharks, manta rays, dugongs, high diversity of coral species, over 700 reef fish species, with beaches being an important nesting and breeding areas for loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles. A popular bucket list destination, nowhere on Earth do whale sharks reliably congregate in such large numbers as at Ningaloo Reef, the world’s longest fringing reef in the world.

Sea Shepherd’s Exmouth Coordinator and Ningaloo crew member Grace Keast hosts regular community clean-ups along the Exmouth Gulf and North West Cape where generally trash from tourists is removed. 

“We conducted two smaller clean-ups in 2016 and 2017 at Janes Bay which revealed similar types of trash to our Exmouth clean-ups like consumer plastics and fishing gear, but what we found at Janes Bay this year is very different and of huge concern.”

- Exmouth Coordinator Grace Keast
Grace Keast cleaning the beach at Ningaloo

In an Australian first for the Marine Debris Campaign, the trash found at Janes Bay was unusual being consisted of only four main categories: plastic film, hard plastics including thousands of nurdles, plastic food packaging and rope scraps. Virtually all of the items were ocean plastic swept in from the sea onto the beach with a large percentage of items displaying branding originating from SE Asia. 

“Incredibly this year there was a totally different type of debris washing in from overseas. There was 18,000 pieces of plastic film and over 3,000 single-use plastic beverage containers and when they break up they look just like jellyfish. It’s been astonishing what we have found and removed from this beach,” said Grace.

Sea Shepherd crew came across a deceased green turtle which was missing both of its front flippers, with the remaining tissue having rope fragments embedded. On the final day a green turtle was observed by drone swimming close to the beach, displaying signs of float syndrome – a turtle which has ingested plastic is unable to dive for food and floats on the surface of the ocean.

A dead turtle found at Ningaloo.

In a random survey of 100 pieces of plastic film, 91% were found to have bite marks from fish or turtles.

Data collected by Sea Shepherd at Janes Bay is being shared with the CSIRO who has been conducting a marine debris research study along the Ningaloo Reef. Previous surveys by the CSIRO along the Ningaloo Coast found the area to be 250 times cleaner than most other reefs worldwide. 

“The Ningaloo Coast is an incredible region of biodiversity and an area we need to look after,” said Grace.

View image gallery from the Ningaloo clean-up:

Volunteers sort and count plastic debris
Plastic trash with bite marks found at Ningaloo.
Trash at Ningaloo.
Volunteers cleaning Ningaloo
A crab tangled in fishing line at Ningaloo
A plastic water bottle in the dunes at Ningaloo
A volunteer cleaning Ningaloo. The Ningaloo Coast is a World Heritage site.
Passionate volunteers from Sea Shepherd Australia's Marine Debris Campaign
A dead turtle found at Ningaloo

Sea Shepherd would like to thank the Rangers from the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions for their support to this clean-up.

The Ningaloo 2020 Remote Clean-up received funding by a bequest from Western Australian Sea Shepherd supporter Joan. We would like to thank Joan’s family for their generosity and the recognition of the value of Sea Shepherd’s marine conservation campaigns to protect marine life and habitats.

Ningaloo 2020 Remote Clean-up Results Snapshot:

- 33,341 pieces of trash 

- 18,864 pieces of plastic film (compared to 885 pieces in 2016 and 3,202 pieces in 2017)

- 3,125 single-use plastic beverage cups

- 2,540 nurdles (pre-production plastic pellets)

- Total weight of trash: 149 kilograms (very light compared to other clean-ups)

- The top offenders from the branded items were produced by Wings Food, Siantar Top, both Indonesian based food companies and Unilever, a global company.

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