Sunday 25th of September 2022

barcoded rubbish……….

An environmental mess is growing in far northern Australia, with wave after wave of plastic waste washing up on coastlines in the remote Northern Territory and Queensland.

Key points:
  • Rangers say the amount of plastic waste washing up on remote NT beaches is the worst they've ever seen it
  • They're calling on the Albanese government to urgently enter into talks with Indonesia and other Asian countries about how their sea waste could be better managed
  • The federal government has funded marine debris coordinators for northern ranger groups to help them tackle the issue

Lighters, thongs, scooter helmets, medical syringes and toothbrushes are among an endless list of discarded items, much of it from Indonesia, piling up on once-pristine beaches.

Indigenous ranger groups in north-east Arnhem Land say this year, it is the worst they've ever seen it.

Jess Puntoriero, the sea country facilitator for Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation – the group responsible for overseeing a long stretch of Arnhem Land's coast – said south-easterly dry season winds were "dumping thousands of tonnes of rubbish up in the Gulf of Carpentaria".

"We've only got 10 rangers, and to stretch that out along 70 kilometres of coastline when we're just getting smashed by marine debris, it's utilising all of our resources and time," she said.

"We're already seeing the impact it's having on our natural environment; it's impacting culturally significant sites, animals, and areas where traditional owners go out to hunt."

The federal environment department said Indigenous rangers in the north "have successfully removed … 120 cubic metres (roughly six semi-trailer loads) of marine debris from the gulf’s beaches and inshore waters" since early 2021. 

Rirratjingu clan traditional owner Mawalan '2' Marika said he feared the plastics and microplastics washing into his fishing and hunting country could be doing lasting damage to the ecosystems.

"It's really sad, and it's really dangerous for the fish, and all the animals that live in the sea," he said.

The plastic waste is also potentially causing harm to the region's fledgling tourism industry, with travellers voicing their dismay at the state of some of the area's most popular beaches.


Some, like Darwin traveller Amanda Martin, said Australians needed to be made aware of the issue.

"I was shocked," she said.

Rangers are calling for the new federal government to continue discussionsabout a solution with Indonesian officials and the other countries from where the worst of the rubbish is coming.

Tests on barcodes of a cross-section of the plastic products have confirmed the trash's nations of origin, with the bulk of the rubbish hailing from Indonesia, with other items from China, Taiwan and Thailand.




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