The first South West World Heritage Area Marine Debris survey in 1999 was run as a fully funded collaborative project organised by National Parks and the Surfrider Foundation. The comprehensive logistical effort was jointly coordinated by Helen Pryor and Craig Saunders. The project integrated Orange Belly Parrot and Rubbish Monitoring, with participants deployed to beaches via helicopter to camp to spend the days listening for parrots and collecting rubbish. The rubbish was counted as it was collected, bagged up placed in a net and slung under a helicopter for the trip back to beaches inside Port Davey.
Unfortunately there was not enough project money to bring the rubbish back via helicopter. A fortuitous meeting with a cray deckhand at a local pub led me to a generous cray-fisherman called Dave Wyatt. He offered to take his Scottish built ,canoe stern cray boat the Isabelle May the 12 hour steam around the coast from Dover to collect the rubbish. This trip was the first of many around the coast with Dave. The trips to the south west Tasmanian wilderness started as unpaid tucker trips helping out as a deckhand and then as the coordinator of the subsequent cleanups and numerous crayfishing, fishing, photography and charter trips.
Steaming through the narrows to collect the rubbish from the first cleanup. Summer 1999
For the subsequent cleanups we decided to use the local cray fishermen for the cleanup along with Dave's dad Mal on his beautiful yacht the Moonwatch. Instead of the helicopters we accessed the beaches in tinnie's and zodiacs and slept aboard the boats so we could be sure to move to sheltered waters in case the roaring 40's whipped up the 15 metre plus swell the region is famous for .
Out the Back!
All cleanups prior to 2002 had been run on a shoestring, sometimes with small government grants but usually with some early morning crayfishing to help pay the fuel bills, some personal funds and the generosity of Dave and his mates.
In 2002 we won the inaugural Federal Environment Ministers Coastal Custodians award so we could finally pay Dave the fuel costs for the trip and leverage some other in-kind sponsorship of food from the Wursthaus Kitchen. We were slowly refining the technique of collecting and collating the rubbish. By 2005 we were picking the rubbish up returning to the boats of an evening and then tipping the rubbish onto a tarp and then having an hour or two of frenzied counting.
Rubbish sorters from the counters chair
Tally Sheet from the 2006 Cleanup - Click to enlarge
The next year I was fortunate to be named a Coca-Cola Community Environment Award finalist and won some money to keep the trip going. After a face to face meeting with British polar adventurer Robert Swan I won the major prize and within weeks was on my way to the Antarctic Peninsula on a two week Leadership Training and Development course titled 'Leadership on the edge'. This life changing experience showed me what a small group of dedicated people can achieve with perseverance and passion. It also showed me that corporate sponsorship is a viable way forward if you want to really achieve your goals into the long term.
2008 saw the Quiksilver Foundation step up and provide the first corporate financial sponsorship for the cleanup, this was supplemented by some leftover prize money and ongoing support from the Wursthaus Kitchen. By now we had a semi regular local pool of experienced and willing volunteers plus sponsor positions and the fleet was up to between 4 and 5 boats. We were becoming more efficient at collecting and sorting and the amount of rubbish collected increased to to a maximum of nearly 14000 items for a weeks collecting on the 2008 trip. We developed the Dirty Dozen concept a group of 12 items that generally contribute over 85% of the items collected on a single trip. The Dirty Dozen provides a good summary of the items whose source we need to identify with an aim to reducing their impacts.
Click on the graphs above for enlarged images
In 2009 we had a very successful sponsorship drive with the Quiksilver Foundation providing financial support and a set of clothes for all the participants and in kind support from local businesses the Wursthaus Kitchen and Cascade Brewery. Unfortunately we experienced the worst patch of weather I have experienced during a cleanup. The near constant wind, rain, hail and 5 metre swells kept us tucked up inside Port Davey for the majority of the weeks survey effort. As a result we were unable to access the broad open ocean beaches we normally survey, these broad west facing beaches collect tonnes of rubbish of all shapes and sizes. This is reflected in the graph above which shows a 30-50% decrease in most items from the 'dirty dozen'. 2006 was similar and we were again confined to Port Davey this is also reflected in the graphs
The 2009 trip saw us pass 50000 pieces of rubbish collected and itemised off the beaches. We are still hoping to find the beaches spotless one year!
2010 saw Patagonia and Pennicott Wilderness Journeys take over as the cleanups long term principal sponsors. Both companies are at the forefront of Corporate Environmental Ethics, donating a percentage of profits to worthy environmental organisations and causes. The generous donations cover the costs of fuel and food for the 20 volunteers and crew.
The statistics reveal 2010 and 2011 as very good years for rubbish as over 17000 and 18000 items respectively were collected. 2011 marked the first time that small plastic pieces overtook small rope pieces as the most common rubbish item overall. This is reflected in what we are observing on the beaches as more and more plastic pieces are visible on the surface and with the sand profile. During the 2011 cleanup a staggering 11000 items were collected in just one day from one small 1.5 km stretch of coastline. 2011 also saw Pieter Van der Woude's Odalisque join the fleet. This meant for the first time we could take over 20 volunteers around the coast and could really cover the beach in footprints and get every last rubbish item off the beach. The large numbers also meant that we can finally remove all the 'temples de rope' the 300 kg+ balls of rope that litter the beaches.
2012 saw the team break through the 100,000 item barrier collecting over 27,000 items of just 6 beaches. The fleet comprised the Velocity, the Diamantina III and the Breaksea. The team recovered a back breaking 11,253 items from the beautiful Stephens Beach just south of Port Davey. This beach is exposed to the highest wave energies in Australia and had not been cleaned since 1999.
2013 was the best cleanup yet, a well oiled team and just enough breaks in the weather to get to the expansive west facing beaches. The team of 20 managed to recover over 35000 items during the week long beachcombing frenzy. We are still seeing a increase in the amount of rubbish collected and we have started working with the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council and the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishing Association to remove and minimise the locally derived fishing related rubbish from the beaches of Tasmania.
We were fortunate again in 2014 to have the ongoing financial support of Patagonia, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys and the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council. The funds were supplemented by a Crowd funding project on Pozible and the annual fundraising Raffle and Concert. I really had doubts we would be able to surpass the effort from last year but we blitzed last years total by around 13,000 items largely thanks to a two day effort at 'Midden Beach' which saw us remove over 27000 items from 1.5 kilometres of shoreline. We are continuing to see a rapid increase in the amount of plastic pieces collected each year.