We are excited to announce the release of our River Warriors ‘State of Marine Debris’ Report and associated Marine Debris Report Card for Phase I of our Tallebudgera Creek River Warriors initiative on the Gold Coast. Officially launched to the public on 28 February, the report highlights the findings of our 24 kayak-based surveys of Tallebudgera Creek, outlining sources and potential solutions to mitigate debris across the waterway.
A snapshot of our findings
During the course of Phase I of the project, our team collected 22,925 items, weighing in at almost 1500kg! The top six items found by the team across the waterway were:
1) Polystyrene balls;
2) Plastic bits & pieces;
3) Plastic film remnants (soft plastics);
4) Cigarette butts & packaging;
5) Lightweight plastic bags;
6) Foam insulation and packaging.
As you can see from the above graph, plastic and polystyrene made up 86.2% of our findings! These items also pose the biggest threat to marine life, water quality and human health and are known to make their way through the food chain back to us. Whilst research is only beginning to comprehend the impacts that toxic compounds in plastics can have when ingested by humans, we’ve known the impacts they cause on marine ecosystems for decades through entanglement, ingestion and bioaccumulation.
It’s interesting to note the impact that one item can have on results. During our first three surveys, the team found polystyrene balls throughout the waterway, some in unreachable areas amongst the mangroves. During survey 4, we found the source of the balls - a beanbag hanging from a tree, which was seemingly carried there during a heavy rain/flood event. Whilst the results of the polystyrene balls had an overwhelming impact on our data, it is important to include them in our overall data. In time, with a lack of anomalies such as these, we expect more consistent results with fewer spikes in data (as can be seen below in section 4).
What did Tallebudgera Creek score?
As survey lengths differed, we calculated the average number of items found and weight recorded per kilometre (Quantity of Debris). Our team covered 40.2km in total across the 24 surveys with an average number of 570 items found per kilometre, weighing in at 38.3kg per kilometre. Quantity of Debris found (<20 items per km = A, >600 items per km = F) influenced the report card result, along with Type of Debris found (<10% plastic and polystyrene = A, >75% plastic and polystyrene = F) and Sources of Debris (no major sources = A, 6+ sources = F). For this report the Tallebudgera Creek scored an F+ on the report card.
While this may seem like a shocking result (especially given that the Tallebudgera Creek was recently voted Australia’s best swimming spot) it’s important to take into account that this data comes from a baseline study and that there are some anomalies as aforementioned (including >10,000 polystyrene balls found throughout the waterway, believed to be from a single found bean bag) that influenced our results. Without the balls and beanbag we the creek would have scored better and, as our research continues, our variables will reflect a more consistent pattern of debris, whilst highlighting the impact that Phase II of the program has on mitigating the issue at its source.
Report card release
On Thursday February 28 we released our findings to the public at an event which was held at the Gold Coast Recreation Centre. Representatives from Gold Coast Waterways Authority, Gold Coast City Council, Tweed City Council, Healthy Land & Water, GECKO Environment Council, Surfrider Foundation and Tallebudgera Outdoor Education School were in attendance (amongst others). It was great to have so much knowledge in the room and to brainstorm ideas and solutions on the best way to address these issues moving forward.
Next steps: Phase II of the project
Over the next 6 months the team will be running 12 community engagement and ‘Source to Sea’ education programs, as well as 6 public-facing cleans to connect a variety of stakeholders to become stewards of waterway health!
We’ll also be exploring mitigation measures such as educational signage, bins, graffiti artworks, booms and traps to shift behaviour and eliminate debris before it can make it’s way into the Tallebudegera Creek.
Stay tuned and, if you’re on the Gold Coast, why not get in touch to be a part of the program via firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography © Positive Change for Marine Life 2019