Eager volunteers help clean up environment

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EVERY year more than eight million tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans.

That startling figure was contained in a 2016 report, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics”, produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in conjunction with the World Economic Forum.

The report predicts that, at our current rate of plastic production, the equivalent of five garbage trucks worth of plastic will spill into the ocean per minute within three decades.

“By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than sealife”
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation

At that rate, just imagine what the world and its oceans might look like in 100 years’ time.

Air and environmental pollution are today recognised as some of the biggest contributors to climate change around the world.

A volunteer collects plastics and other waste at Nudgee Beach.

by Micah Coto
A volunteer collects plastics and other waste at Nudgee Beach.

 

Because of this, a wide cross-section of groups and organisations are collaborating to clean up the environment wherever possible.

One of the more prominent bodies doing this work is Sea Shepherd, an organisation founded in 1977 by one of the original members of Greenpeace, Paul Watson.

The distinctive Sea Shepherd logo.

by Trina McLellan
The distinctive Sea Shepherd logo.

With its distinctive skull over a crossed shepherd’s crook and trident, Sea Shepherd says its main goal is to work towards creating a better future by cleaning up the planet and fighting to look after wildlife and endangered species in the oceans.

Using a fleet of marine vessels, Sea Shepherd patrols oceans, collecting rubbish and deterring potential poachers from illegally hunting and entrapping endangered species and wildlife.

Its other initiatives include cleaning up along shorelines, with its Australian arm hosting multiple beach clean-up events every month around Australia.

Sea Shepherd's Stuart Donald briefs a group of volunteers ahead of the Nudgee Beach clean-up

by Micah Coto
Sea Shepherd’s Stuart Donald briefs a group of volunteers ahead of the Nudgee Beach clean-up.

 

But these events would not be possible without the help of community minded volunteers who scour foreshores, collecting and properly disposing of plastics and other rubbish.

At times what is discarded can be quite surprising, according to Stuart Dawson, who has volunteered with Sea Shepherd Australia since 2017, organising clean-ups in South-East Queensland.

“… largely, the pile contained plastic items – discarded containers, ropes, floats and wrappers – that had worked their way onto the sand and into the mangroves”

Stuart recently convened a clean-up at Nudgee Beach, marshalling about 50 other volunteers who, together, collected nearly 250kg worth of rubbish.

Volunteer returns carrying a discarded rubber tyre and bag of plastic debris after scouring the beach in search for debris that was dumped or washed ashore.

by Micah Coto
Volunteer returns after scouring the beach in search for debris that was dumped or washed ashore.

 

Their haul included 1,500 pieces of broken glass, 5 “sharps” (medical instruments that have the potential to cause injury or harm) plus several tyres together weighing 45kg.

Plastic, glass, aluminium cans and other waste collected at Nudgee Beach in Brisbane during the Sea Shepherd clean-up

by Micah Coto
Plastic, glass, aluminium cans and other waste collected at Nudgee Beach in Brisbane during the Sea Shepherd clean-up.

 

But, largely, the pile contained plastic items – discarded containers, ropes, floats and wrappers – that had worked their way onto the sand and into the mangroves.

Around the nation, many Australians have participated in Clean Up Australia Day, which is hosted annually by local communities.

This event has become the nation’s largest community based environmental event.

Clean Up Australia began in 1989, after experienced sailor Ian Kiernan had the idea to clean up his own backyard and was inspired to start making a difference in his hometown, Sydney.

For the previous 40 years, Ian had been a competitive yachtsman and, in 1986, he completed a solo circumnavigation of the world.

During that journey, he became appalled by the amount of pollution he found floating in the ocean.

This inspired him to take action leading to the first event, Clean Up Sydney Harbour, in 1989 that saw more than 5,000 tonnes of rubbish picked up by 40,000 volunteers.

A Sea Shepherd volunteer carefully picks through aerial roots in the Nudgee Beach mangroves

by Micah Coto
A Sea Shepherd volunteer carefully picks through aerial roots in the Nudgee Beach mangroves.

 

Since the beginning of Clean Up Australia, more than 365,000 ute-loads of rubbish have been cleared out of the environment by volunteers, a legacy of which the late Ian Kiernan would be justifiably proud.

“It is crucial that organisations have community support, because it takes every person to make a difference.”
Sea Shepherd’s Stuart Donald

Today, Australian volunteers in this and other groups are putting as much effort into preventing rubbish from entering the environment as they are removing the rubbish that is being left behind.

“The goal is to make every day a clean day,” Sea Shepherd’s Stuart said.

“It is crucial that organisations have community support, because it takes every person to make a difference.”

Volunteer mum placing gloves on young daughter

by Micah Coto
A mum places protective gloves on her daughter ahead of the Sea Shepherd clean-up at Brisbane’s Nudgee Beach.

 

One of Sea Shepherd’s Nudgee Beach volunteers, Zita, said all people had to “make an effort” to improve the environment.

A new mum, Zita expressed concerns about her baby daughter’s future and hoped that more people would start doing their share, so that her child could have a cleaner future.

Hear Zita’s explanation for joining in the clean-up in this video.

Remnants of a plastic bag entangled in aerial roots of mangroves at Brisbane's Nudgee Beach

by Micah Coto
Remnants of a plastic bag entangled in aerial roots of mangroves at Brisbane’s Nudgee Beach.

 

On land and inland there are efforts, too, to improve degraded environments across Australia.

… there are more than 5,400 Landcare and associated Coastline groups, making this the largest volunteer environmental management movement in Australia

Back in 1986, a state-based Landcare was launched by then Victorian minister for Conservation, Forest and Lands, Joan Kirner, and then president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, Heather Mitchell.

Three years later, the National Farmers Federation’s Rick Farley and the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Phillip Toyne successfully lobbied the then prime minister Bob Hawke, who backed the foundation of a national Landcare body.

With help from government, the private sector and local communities, today there are more than 5,400 Landcare and associated Coastline groups, making this the largest volunteer environmental management movement in Australia.

“So much more can be done if we are able to engage the entire community.”
Landcare Australia website

On its website, Landcare Australia acknowledges that its people “are its greatest asset”.

Although, efforts to date have been noble, it adds, “so much more can be done if we are able to engage the entire community and not just those who are already passionate about the sustainability and productivity of our land”.

Many of Australia’s urban communities today also have active Bushcare groups, volunteers who meet regularly to help maintain the health and biodiversity of local bushland, wetlands and riparian areas alongside waterways.

These groups work on council and state-owned lands – in partnership with Landcare and Coastline – on specific, small-area projects.

It’s people like Stuart and Zita – and organisations like Sea Shepherd, Landcare and Bushcare involving thousands more like them – who prove it is not hard to get involved and do something positive about issues affecting the planet.

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Words: Micah Coto
Images: Micah Coto / The Argus; Trina McLellan / The Argus
Video: Micah Coto / The Argus; Marissa Lim / The Argus

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Want to read more?
The original version of this story is one of 30 in a special online Climate Change edition of The Argus that was compiled by Queensland College of Art students from a final-year course called Transmedia Storytelling.