Sea Shepherd’s “Operation Marine Debris” tackles the plastic pollution crisis one beach at a time.
Sea Shepherd joined forces with the Great Australian Bite Alliance last Saturday the 20th of May, bringing two important issues to light down at sunny St Kilda Beach. The escalating issue of marine debris was combated with a beach cleanup by Sea Shepherd, followed by a protest against oil drilling in the bite with supported by both organisations.
There’s a silent killer in our water that’s scarier than a shark and a box jellyfish combined. It outlives us, out-swims us, and threatens our whole existence. This killer is plastic, and the more we consume, the more it consumes us. Sea Shepherd Australia are taking action against this killer, declaring war with their “Operation Marine Debris” campaign. Hitting shorelines monthly around Australia, the team were down at St Kilda Beach last Saturday in all their glory, clearing our beaches of nasty things.
The day began at 10am with clear skies and warm northerly winds licking our faces, a first we had witnessed all of May. Spirits were high as a group of volunteers gathered around a Sea Shepherd canopy that projected the word “CONSERVE” to pedestrians as they mosey along the beach, enjoying the views of Brooks Jetty and Luna Park in the tourist haven of St Kilda.
As more and more participants baring Sea Shepherd shirts gravitated toward the canopy, a passionate speaker began briefing the attendees on the do’s and don’ts of the day. After a quick “don’t touch this”, “be careful of that”, we grabbed our gloves and potato sacks, and dispersed along the coastline hunting for prey (the prey here being rubbish- hoping to sound more badass).
As soon as the hunt commenced, I noticed a lack of debris. The previous beach cleanups I had participated in were over in areas like the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown, un-touristy areas that do not get cleaned by anyone but organisations like Sea Shepherd, so I was used to finding debris left, right and centre. St Kilda Beach however, gets raked (mowed? ploughed? rotary hoe’d?) by a tractor every morning, creating the illusion of a clean beach for our tourist friends who have been told that St Kilda is renowned for their stunning beaches, a classic “head-down, blinkers-on” situation.
After I had remembered that St Kilda Beach gets raked every morning, I quickly made my way to the rocks at the end of the beach, and it was here where I found my first collection of prey for the day. It was a bit of a “Uhhhh-hah! Gotcha!” feeling, as if I were happy to find some rubbish… but then I realised that finding rubbish on our beautiful beaches is never a good thing, and if all of this debris had been caught where the water meets the rocks, then a lot more debris would’ve escaped the wrath of the rocks, making its way deeper into the ocean we depend so much on.
The next hour was spent on my hands and knees leaning elbow-deep into the rocky crevasses, pulling out old thongs, plastic bags, and stolen (the detective inside me assumes stolen) car plates. I made some friends with two 8-year olds, who are at every Sea Shepherd beach cleanup with their environmentally conscious parents. They taught me a game called “recyclable or non-recyclable”, which is the most self explanatory game i’ve ever heard of, but nevertheless, this put a massive smile on my face, seeing the younger generation aware and passionate about our oceans.
Participation numbers were OK, but reached no where near the 411 people that clicked “attending” on the Facebook event, which poses the question of whether people volunteer for the cause, or to look good on their resume or social media page (click HERE for a story on charity work as an Australian “value”). The excuse definitely could not be the weather (an excuse I had rightfully used for the previous beach clean-up), so I sat and waited whilst the rubbish we had collected was analysed, assuming participation levels would rise for the “Hands Across the Sand” protest conducted by The Great Australian Bight Alliance, in conjunction with Sea Shepherd.
After striking up a conversation with a fellow scuba diver, 30 minutes had gone by before I heard a voice on the microphone. Looking up, I notice the number of attendees had in fact depleted, leaving about 50 people to hold hands along the sand for the nation wide “Hands Across the Sand” oil drilling protest. We were graced with about 20 minutes of passionate speeches made by Indigenous elder and “whale dreamer”, Bunna Lawrie, who also expressed his disappointment in participation numbers.
“I’m the whale song man from the Nullarbor on the Great Australian Bight, the Great Australian Bight is the greatest whale nursery on this planet. The whale story where I come from is my university, my school. It’s the place where our beautiful Southern Right Whales come to calve their young, to teach their young to travel on the next journey. Whales like Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, Pygmy Blue Whales, Killer Whales, Humpback Whales – they travel down there to honour that great journey, that song, that story of the great white whale Jeedara that is there now.” – Bunna Lawrie, Mirning Elder – whalesong man, and spokesman for Operation Jeedara
Read more here about Operation Jeedara, Sea Shepherd’s campaign against drilling in the bite
After Bunna Lawrie’s speech came to an end, we all made our way to the waters edge and help up a sign saying “BIG OIL HAS NO FUTURE IN THE BIGHT”, and after a few failed attempts and chanting a phrase that was too long to remember, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. Although the participation levels left me, and Bunna Lawrie disappointed, the 177 people who helped clean St Kilda beach collected over 80kg of debris, a great outcome considering the beach was already seemingly clean.
Monthly beach cleanups are posted on the Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Facebook group here.
Information relating to oil drilling can be found here, including petitions and protest events.
For the not-so environmentally aware readers, I have made a bit of a “dumby” guide highlighting the key points to the two issues. If these points tug on the ol’ heart strings, theres heaps of ways you can do your bit too!
- Plastic never fully degrades. Virtually every bit of plastic that has ever been produced still exists in the world, and once it finds its way into our oceans, it stays there forever.
- Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of the debris floating in our oceans.
- Our consumption and demand for plastic is sharply increasing. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than the whole of the last century.
- 44% of marine animals, and 86% of turtle species are estimated to have plastic inside their guts.
- 80% of seabird species ingest plastic, 90% of birds in those species had plastics in their gut.
- 99% of the world’s seabirds species will be ingesting plastic by 2050 if current marine pollution trends continue.
- Animals at the bottom of the food chain ingest micro-plastics containing toxic chemicals, these animals are then ingested by larger animals, with toxicity levels increasing as it makes its way up the food chain.
- Micro-plastics are plastic particles smaller than 5mm in size. They most commonly come from laundered nylon clothing, exfoliating beads and toothpastes, or weathered plastics such as plastic bottles, packaging, and bags.
- Larger fish with high plastic toxicity levels are eaten by humans.
- 93% of American adults test positive for BPA- A plastic chemical
- Some compounds found in plastic can lead to hormonal alterations and have other potential human health effects.
Information sited from the Sea Shepherd Marine Debris website.
Oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight
- Only 5 years ago was one of the worst oil spills to date, when BP’s undersea oil drill rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in the death of 11 workers, with oil spilling for 87 days killing millions of marine life, as well as the collapse of local fishing and tourism industries.
- BP next had their eyes set on the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight, in South Australia.
- In October 2016, BP announced that they would pull out of exploration drilling the The Bight, thanks to pressure from lobby groups such as Sea Shepherd and The Great Australian Bight Alliance.
- Despite this great news, other big oil companies such as Chevron and Santos are lining up to exploit the Great Australian bight.
- The Southern Ocean itself is some of the roughest oceans in terms of wave energy and climb, making it a ticking bomb for another oil spill.
- Even a low-flow spill would be significantly felt by the whole southern coast of Australia, due to the high winds and currents in the ocean, and would take an extremely long time to clear.
- South Australian community opinions are split- many strongly support drilling in the Bight (to generate jobs and business), and many are strongly against the drilling.
All information sited from the Great Australian Bight Alliance website.