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Marine debris - the dirty facts.

Marine debris is a growing global issue and a major threat to our marine plants and animals. 

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If all we ever do is clean up, we’re never going to solve the problem.

Dedicated volunteers and groups in the Wet Tropics clean up tonnes of marine litter each year, but Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s Heidi Tait says it’s critical that we also address the source. 

“If all we ever do is clean up, we’re never going to solve the problem.” 

Last year in the Wet Tropics alone there were 17 clean up events and 24 monitoring events where hundreds of volunteers notched up 2061 hours of volunteer time – that’s about 90 days of rubbish collection and data entry.  

ReefClean, launched in 2019, is tackling marine debris across the Great Barrier Reef region through community clean-ups, monitoring, data analysis and source reduction activities.  

Data collected during clean-up events is logged in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database and provides a comprehensive oversight of marine debris trends. 

Clean-up volunteers and organisations have historically collected data in different ways and the AMDI database provides a methodology to collect data in a comparable, standardised way. 

“It’s quality data that can be used in decisionmaking by community groups through to government departments,” says Heidi.  

“Knowing what is impacting different areas means that through the ReefClean program we can work with those communities on a source reduction plan that’s appropriate for their area, and that they have the capacity for. When you’ve got buy-in from communities, source reduction plans really work.”  

Twenty-one source reduction campaigns across six plans were rolled out in the Great Barrier Reef region last year. Campaigns aim to reduce the amount of litter moving into the environment by stopping it at the source. In the Wet Tropics, campaigns targeted cigarette butt litter, general litter in public spaces, dog poo and associated plastic bags, and fishing-related debris. 

The campaigns are already having an impact.  

Through a partnership with the Gunggandji-Mandingalbay Yidinji Peoples Prescribed Body Corporate Aboriginal Corporation, new bins with educational signage were installed by rangers at Yarrabah. Data collected before and after installation shows a decline in the amount of land-based litter. 

Similarly, when cigarette butt bins were installed with educational signage at the Innisfail boat ramp, cigarette litter decreased by 74%.  

Since ReefClean started, clean up events around the Wet Tropics have logged a whopping 11.5 tonnes of marine debris.  

It’s expected that through ReefClean’s holistic approach, underpinned by the scientifically robust AMDI Database, we will expect to see less litter and ongoing behavioural change across the Wet Tropics and wider Great Barrier Reef region. 

The program will run until the end of 2023. 

ReefClean is delivered by Tangaroa Blue Foundation with project partners Reef Check Australia, Capricornia Catchments, Eco Barge Clean Seas, OceanWatch Australia, South Cape York Catchments, Australian Microplastics Assessment Project (AUSMAP) and Whitsunday Catchment Landcare. It is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust. 

What is marine debris? 

Marine debris is rubbish that finds its way into the marine environment. In the Wet Tropics, rubbish can make its way to the Great Barrier Reef through stormwater drains, during severe weather events, from international waters, and through accidental or deliberate littering from shipping or boating activities. 

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