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Walking along the beach you can find a few shells, an odd pebble or two or a worm if you have the right bait. Plastic is becoming a common sight along our shores, creating a recipe for disaster at sea. Photograph © Gabrielle Ahern

Going for a walk along the beach is something everyone love to do. I like to go for a swim, do some fishing or just take photos.

Unfortunately, some beaches are littered with rubbish washed in with the tide or from illegal dumping. Research by the CSIRO has found three quarters of the rubbish floating in waters off the Australian coast is plastic and its density ranges from a few thousand pieces to more than 40, 000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.

This is an incredible amount of plastic but high demand for plastic goods has increased the occurrence of this kind of debris in our oceans and the resulting negative impacts to marine life and their habitat. Leather back and green sea turtles often mistake floating plastic bags for a jellyfish. Due to the animal’s unique anatomy, the bags lodge in their throat or stomache, with the animal eventually dying from starvation.

Sadly, this is also the case for other marine wildlife like sharks and birds. CSIRO have reported 67% of short-tailed shearwaters inhabiting waters along Australia, New Zealand and the Southern Ocean consume plastic items, such as, rubber, foam, string and glow sticks, as the birds mistake it for their natural prey, while foraging out at sea. Negative effects on marine animals are not just isolated to stress from swallowing plastic and starvation; they include the chemicals the animals can absorb into their bodies.

The Australian government and local councils provide opportunities for recycling. For instance, at refuse stations, apart from your rubbish, you can drop off metal, plastic, electrical goods or green waste. Shops in some states in Australia have stopped providing plastic bags as an incentive for consumers to bring their own. This is working but people still rely on plastic bags because they are a fast and easy solution.

The fantastic plastic mix over land and sea can make way for its more natural counterpart if:

  • community awareness programs increased,
  • new environmental and maritime laws were introduced, and
  • alternative products to plastic were made more accessible and affordable.

But in the meantime, everyone can contribute to conservation in simple ways.

  • Use an alternative to plastic bags, cups, straws, etc. Lots of people do this already, which is great.
  • Take part in a conservation project during a holiday, gap year or any time you want to, locally or overseas. For example, look after animals in Africa; survey turtles at Mon Repos in Queensland; assist research about Ningaloo Reef in West Australia; or contribute to studies about the Amazon rainforest, just as a suggestion.
  • Throw discarded nets or fishing lines into the rubbish.
  • Change the way you do things at home, at work or in general.
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Surf beach. Photo © Gabrielle Ahern

Plastic debris floats like a small island of destruction. It is ironic that people risk their own lives daily to save marine wildlife and their habitats, and a lot of people do the right thing by the practices they follow, but long term, so many more animals suffer in silence, thanks to these discarded souvenirs of modern convenience.

Written by Gabrielle Ahern

Salty Wave Blue – Into all things ecology.

Follow @SaltyWaveBlue on @Instagram and @Twitter

If you would like to see images of  animals in their environment, especially turtles, fish and birds,  please take a look at my Pinterest site: https://www.pinterest.com/saltywave

Links to some great community based organisations involved with marine conservation & clearing the oceans of plastic debris.

Take 3 http://www.take3.org.au/main/page_home.html

“’Take 3′ is a not-for-profit organisation formed in Australia in 2009 that aims to raise awareness of plastic pollution (marine debris) by encouraging each visitor to the beach, waterway or…anywhere to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with them when they leave and dispose of it thoughtfully. We also encourage everyone to reduce unnecessary plastic consumption – and make our lives a little less plastic!”

Project Aware http://www.projectaware.org

“Project AWARE Foundation is a growing movement of scuba divers protecting the ocean planet – one dive at a time. We’re focusing in on two major ocean issues –Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, or trash in our ocean.”

Surf Rider Foundation http://www.surfrider.org.au

“Surfrider Foundation Australia is a registered not for profit sea-roots organisation dedicated to the protection of Australia’s waves and beaches through Conservation, Activism, Research and Education C.A.R.E.”