10 YEARS: Clean-up of Whitsunday beaches a constant battle
ENOUGH rubbish to fill the Airlie Beach Lagoon one-and-a-half times has been removed from Whitsundays beaches over the past decade.
Eco Barge Clean Seas celebrates its 10th anniversary of operation this year, with staff and volunteers largely responsible for keeping the islands of the Whitsundays clean.
In that time, staff and volunteers have removed a whopping 179,743kg of marine debris that has washed onto our beaches.
Eco Barge founding chair Libby Edge said she started the organisation after she visited a south-east facing bay on one of the islands and saw how much rubbish had washed up there.
This beach was not alone, many beaches in the islands of the Whitsundays face the exact same problem, and it is in these areas Eco Barge has concentrated their focus.
Ms Edge, who had worked as a commercial skipper said she was shocked by what she saw as no tourist boats ever went to these sides of the islands.
She said she started Eco Barge to show members of the community the marine debris first hand.
"I wanted them to understand the marine litter was coming from the mainland,” she said.
The islands are not just attracting rubbish from the Airlie Beach area, with much making its way here from stormwater in Brisbane and Sydney.
It is also washing in from Asian countries - something Eco Barge project co-ordinator Fiona Broadbent said could be seen through Non Fu branded water bottles from China that wash up regularly on beaches here.
They have also seen rubbish from as far away as New Zealand on our shores, with containers that came off a ship wrecked in New Zealand found here.
When Eco Barge first started 10 years ago, it had three volunteers.
Nowadays, it has 1600 volunteers on its books, and over the 10 years has had 6000 help collect rubbish.
"It even exceeded our wildest expectations,” Ms Edge said.
"Seeing the passion and drive the volunteers have makes you have faith in humanity.
"The most important thing about Eco Barge is we couldn't have done it without our supporters or our volunteers.”
When Eco Barge first started doing its work, Ms Edge said volunteers would go to one beach a day.
"In the beginning the beaches were so revolting,” she said.
Nowadays they clean one of two islands each trip, but still average of 200-250kg - or 50 bags - of rubbish each trip.
"There's still such an issue out there because the islands jut out,” Ms Edge said.
The group averages about 40 clean-up trips each year as the barge can only be taken out if the conditions are right.
Eco Barge volunteers don't just collect the rubbish from the beach.
They also help sort it to into different types of rubbish and it is then logged on to the Australian Marine Debris Initiative database, which gives an idea of how much rubbish they are finding, and where they are finding it.
In January Eco Barge started washing some of the plastics that washed up - putting them through a shruder machine, which shreds it.
It is then sent to a company in Sydney, which turns it into hand planes for bodysurfers.
Other recycled material ends up as hooks in changing rooms or jewellery.
"It means a lot of volume is reduced from landfill,” Ms Broadbent said.
"If we can recycle it into another product, it makes more sense.”
Since January, Eco Barge has recycled 450kg of plastic this way.
Metal and glass that is found is all recycled, while rope and rubber goes to local artists to make artwork.
PLASTIC ON RISE
Ms Broadbent said the group had noticed an increase in the percentage of the rubbish found that is plastic.
So far for this year alone, 94 per cent of what they are picking up is made from plastic.
In roadside clean-ups they have been involved in as part of their Eco Barge Clean Streets and Creeks program, they have noticed a decrease in the number of shopping bags that are found since the bag ban came in for Queensland.
However, despite many companies now moving to replace plastic straws with paper ones, or get rid of them altogether, plastic straws are still washing up in large numbers.
The group plans to continue cleaning the islands for a long time yet.
"I don't think there is anyone like us. We are constantly monitoring the islands to keep up with it,” Ms Edge said.