Why are litter and marine debris a problem?

Plastics and other marine debris are a major environmental concern and impact the value of our waterways and marine environment to different people (e.g. the tourism industry, recreational fishers etc.). Debris from either land or sea-based sources can travel huge distances and pose a navigation hazard. It can also potentially transport chemical contaminants, transport invasive species, and smother, entangle and harm marine wildlife.

Plastic is the most common type of marine debris found on beaches in the Great Barrier Reef. It comprises between 50 to 90 per cent of all debris items recorded (GBRMPA, 2017); this is consistent with worldwide figures.

As marine debris has been identified by the Partnership as an important pressure on the iconic waterways and marine environments of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region, we have teamed up the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) database to report on litter and the community response to cleaning it up. Stay tuned for the 2020 Report Card (released July 2021) for our first year reporting litter scores from marine and urban clean-ups across the region. We are also working to identify and reduce local litter sources.

 

The Australian Marine Debris Initiative Database

The AMDI is a network of communities, schools, industries, government agencies and individuals focused on reducing the amount of marine debris washing into our oceans. The initiative includes a database, which enables volunteers and organisations who run marine debris clean-up events to collect data on what they were finding using a consistent methodology. This then means that the data can be collated into a standardised national database on marine debris.

Since the program started in 2004, more than 18 million pieces marine debris have been removed from the Australian coastline and data on this debris collated and inputted into the AMDI database. This creates a comprehensive overview of the amount and types of marine debris that are impacting beaches around the country.

Marine Debris on a beach (© Copyright CSIRO Australia)
Tangaroa Blue
Australian Marine Debris Initiative
ReefBlitz Cleanup event Shute Harbour 2018

The 2018/19 Regional clean-up effort

The data below represents a summary of clean-up data from a number of organisations across the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region. Data is presented per Local Government Area (Mackay, Whitsunday or Isaac) postcode.

Where is our debris originating from- Land or Sea?

Whole region 2018-2019

Coastal beaches in populated areas

  • Land 55%
  • Sea 45%

Coastal beaches away from populated areas

  • Land 3%
  • Sea 97%

Islands

  • Land 10%
  • Sea 90%

Whole region 2017-2018

Coastal beaches in populated areas

  • Land 51%
  • Sea 49%

Coastal beaches away from populated areas

  • Land 9%
  • Sea 91%

Islands

  • Land 10%
  • Sea 90%

Whole region 2016-2017

Coastal beaches in populated areas

  • Land 42%
  • Sea 58%

Coastal beaches away from populated areas

  • Land 5%
  • Sea 95%

Islands

  • Land 4%
  • Sea 96%

Whole region 2015-2016

Coastal beaches in populated areas

  • Land 55%
  • Sea 45%

Coastal beaches away from populated areas

  • Land 8%
  • Sea 92%

Islands

  • Land 12%
  • Sea 88%

What is the debris in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region made up of?

2018-2019

Isaac LGA *1 clean up site

  • Plastic bits and pieces 30%
  • Lids and tops 21%
  • Rope & net scraps 12%
  • Metal 6%
  • Plastic film remnants 5%
  • Plastic drink bottles 5%
  • Aluminium cans 5%
  • Plastic containers 3%
  • Glass or ceramic bottles 3%

Mackay LGA

  • Plastic bits and pieces 51%
  • Lids and tops 11%
  • Cigarette butts and filters 7%
  • Fishing line (m) 3%
  • Foam insulation & packaging 3%
  • Pastic packaging 2%
  • Rope 2%
  • Plastic drink bottles 2%
  • Rubber footwear & thongs 2%

Whitsunday LGA

  • Plastic bits and pieces 64%
  • Lids & tops 16%
  • Cigarette butts & filters 2%
  • Rubber footwear & thongs 2%
  • Foam insulation & packaging 2%
  • Rope & net scraps 1%
  • Plastic drink bottles 1%
  • Plastic packaging 1%
  • Rope 1%

2017-2018

Isaac LGA *1 clean up site

  • Cloth 0%
  • Foam 1%
  • Glass & ceramic 1%
  • Metal 0%
  • Other 0%
  • Paper & cardboard 0%
  • Plastic 95%
  • Rubber 1%
  • Wood 0%

Mackay LGA

  • Cloth 0%
  • Foam 2%
  • Glass & ceramic 2%
  • Metal 3%
  • Other 0%
  • Paper & cardboard 1%
  • Plastic 90%
  • Rubber 2%
  • Wood 0%

Whitsunday LGA

  • Cloth 0%
  • Foam 3%
  • Glass & ceramic 3%
  • Metal 2%
  • Other 2%
  • Paper & cardboard 1%
  • Plastic 86%
  • Rubber 2%
  • Wood 1%

What is the data showing?

In comparison to 2016/17, there was a substantial increase in marine debris clean-up effort in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region in the 2017/18 reporting year. The 2018/19 reporting year saw another sizeable increase in marine debris clean-up efforts in comparison to past years. Following the implementation of an initiative called ReefBlitz during the 2017/18 reporting year (designed to increase clean-up effort in the region), the 2018/19 year saw another strong year for marine debris clean-ups in the region. As in previous years, the breakdown of data per Local Government Area (LGA) shows there is a stronger regional clean-up effort in the Whitsunday region, with a higher number of volunteer effort (hours plus number of volunteers) and consequently many more beaches cleaned and weight removed.

Across all LGA’s (Mackay, Whitsunday and Isaac), plastic makes up the majority of material collected during clean-ups.

Based on 2018/2019 reporting year data, marine debris were more likely to be sourced from the sea in both Mackay and the Whitsundays.

Three items of marine debris.

2018/19 Clean-up Organisations

  • Cleanwater Group
  • Conservation Volunteers Australia
  • Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  • Mackay North State High School
  • Reef Catchments
  • Reef Check Australia
  • ReefGuardian Schools Bowen
  • ReefClean
  • Sarina Catchment Landcare
  • SUEZ
  • Tangaroa Blue Foundation
  • The Port Douglas Beach House
  • We-Refill
  • Wild Mob
  • Wild Mob Youth Ambassadors

Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership acknowledges the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, the community organisations and individuals involved in the collection and the provision of data used in this report.