TeachWild Final Report on marine debris

TeachWild Final Report on marine debris

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TeachWild is a valuable demonstration of what can be achieved when the community
works together to address one of Australia’s most critical environmental issues.

13/10/2014

After three years of research, in a landmark partnership between the corporate, NGO and the research sectors we are pleased to announce that TeachWild have released the final report on marine debris. The report is a three year synopsis of the Earthwatch-Shell-CSIRO National Marine Debris Program.

Recently, global attention has been drawn to issue of marine debris by the discovery of the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of sea the same size as Queensland, with hundreds of thousands of pieces of rubbish for every square kilometre.

After surveying nearly 200 beaches along the Australian coastline, it came as a surprise to many to find that most of the coastal debris in Australia is from Australian sources, and is centred around large metropolitan areas. The blame can no longer be placed on “others”. The problem is home grown with consumer behaviour and illegal dumping being the leading causes.

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“It’s easy for us not to be aware. And that’s the beauty of TeachWild. It forces us to
see the full impacts of plastic and our daily habits.” – Teacher, TeachWild Participant

The vast majority of this rubbish is plastic, which can take over 450 years to degrade. This rubbish is a key threat to marine habitats and wildlife in Australia. In the Gulf of Carpentaria alone over 5,000 turtles became entangled in discarded fishing gear.It is not only entanglement that is an issue. Approximately 40% of seabirds and a third of turtles have ingested marine debris globally.

Thankfully, the report found that there is hope on the horizon. Policies can reduce the problem and incentives are effective. South Australia’s deposit scheme has proved highly successful — the state’s waste has two thirds fewer beverage containers when compared with other states.

Possibly the most important legacy the program leaves is the influence it has had on teachers and students. Scientific skills and understanding have been improved, whilst motivation has rocketed for many teachers and lifted their enthusiasm and capacity for teaching real-life science. A profound impact was made on many of the thousands of student participants as they found out firsthand how much of our plastic waste ends up in our marine environments. The students have been inspired to change their litter habits, reduce their single use plastic consumption, hold fundraising events for marine research and are motivated to engage in marine science.

See the full report here.

CSIRO releases TeachWild marine debris survey results

“By garnering the information needed to identify sources and hotspots of debris, we can better develop effective solutions to tackle marine debris,” CSIRO scientist Dr Denise Hardesty

“Plastic on the coast is ours”

Marine ecosystems worldwide are affected by ‘marine debris’, human-made rubbish mostly made up of plastics.  Marine debris includes consumer items such as glass or plastic bottles, cans, bags, balloons, rubber, metal fibreglass, and other manufactured materials that end up in our ocean.

On Monday, after three years of research, CSIRO released a new report that sheds light on the source of Australian coastal debris and its impact on our marine friend; alarmingly, we are the biggest culprits.

As the largest and most comprehensive research project of its kind, this survey forms an integral part of TeachWild, a marine debris research and education program developed by Earthwatch in partnership with CSIRO and Shell Australia’s National Social Investment Program.

The Research Findings

CSIRO scientist Denise Hardesty says her team surveyed sites approximately every 100 km along the Australian coastline.

“We found about three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast is plastic. Most is from Australian sources, not the high seas, with debris concentrated near cities,” said Dr Hardesty, dispelling the myth that Australians are not responsible for the majority of coastal impacts caused by marine debris.

The report also highlights the increasing toll our rubbish is having on marine wildlife, both locally and on a global scale, with approximately one-third of sea turtles and nearly half of all seabirds globally likely to have ingested some form of marine debris.

Other species, including whales, dolphins, crocodiles, fish and crabs, are also at risk of death or maiming due to entanglement by plastics and other debris.

Preventing this debris from entering the marine environment in the first place is the most effective way to reduce and mitigate its harmful effects. This research demonstrates that, through the collaboration of scientists, industry partners, coastal managers and citizen scientists, we can effectively detail the sources and hotspots of marine debris in order to develop new solutions to tackle our coastal crisis.

A complete summary of the research findings can be found here. The full report may be downloaded here.

Media Links:

CSIRO media release

ABC News article, “Plastic pollution choking Australian waters and killing wildlife: CSIRO study”, 15 September 2014

The Conversation, “The oceans are full of our plastic – here’s what we can do about it”

The Sydney Morning Herald, “Dumping is trashing Australian beaches, says CSIRO report”