Cigarette butts and marine life

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Since 2012 we've collected an estimated 300,000+ pieces of debris from beaches across the Byron Shire in New South Wales. This is an incredible number considering that our surveys take place fortnightly and only cover a 200m x 20m area. People often ask how we can collect so much rubbish from such a small area and the answer largely lies in what you see above.

 Our Byron Bay Coordinator Zoe White, unveiling our joint initiative with Byron Shire Council.

Our Byron Bay Coordinator Zoe White, unveiling our joint initiative with Byron Shire Council.

Cigarette butts on Main Beach in Byron Bay are out of control. If you take a walk through Apex Park or on Main Beach at any time of the day you'll find literally hundreds, if not thousands of cigarette butts littering the ground wherever you go. Not only does this reflect poorly on the town and affect the families and others who gather for picnics and recreation in the park daily, however it also has an enormous effect on the ocean, with Cape Byron Marine Park just a stone's throw away.

On average, we collect between 3-400 cigarette butts per survey from the 200m area that we cover and, with the impacts of the toxic chemicals release into the marine ecosystem only just starting to be fully understood, the reality of the damage that butts can have on marine environments is far greater than most would have imagined.

 Some of the cigarette butts our team finds in our weekly surveys on Main Beach in Byron Bay

Some of the cigarette butts our team finds in our weekly surveys on Main Beach in Byron Bay

It's estimated that 4.5 trillion butts are discarded every year and that, "One solid filter ends up being thousands of tiny fibres that can be released into the marine environment" (article below), having untold impacts on marine life. There have also been studies undertaken into how one smoked cigarette butt in a single litre of water is sufficient to kill both marine and freshwater fish. 

With all of the above all too real and all too prevalent across Australia, we decided that enough was enough and, with the support of the Byron Bay community and Byron Shire Council we pushed for SMOKE-FREE BYRON BEACHES and...we won!

In 2018, alongside council, we implemented a shire wide enforceable smoking ban on beaches, as well as outreach program that protects our ocean and ensures healthy coastlines for tourists and locals alike! 

Keep an eye out for our Smoke Free Beaches team, activities and events and watch this space as the program expands to our other locations across Australia!


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Photographs © Positive Change for Marine Life