Top End Turtle Nesting Beach Trashed by Plastic Pollution

Plastic waste strewn on Djulpan beach in Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory. Photograph: Rebecca Griffiths/Sea Shepherd

Demonstrating what can be achieved when you unite to protect the oceans and marine life, Sea Shepherd and the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation of Northeast Arnhem Land, have again joined forces for a remote beach clean-up campaign at Djulpan in the Northern Territory.

Around 2.5 hours from the nearest town, Djulpan is culturally significant for the Yolgnu people but tragically this isolated and beautiful stretch of coastline is inundated by marine plastic pollution. This area along the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria is also an important nesting ground for six of the seven species of marine turtles which are listed as either endangered or vulnerable.

When the Sea Shepherd crew and Rangers returned to Djulpan for the second year, they were more determined than ever to free the sacred shoreline of Djulpan of trash. Despite the heat and long days together they removed 12.1 tonnes of debris including consumer plastics and large fishing nets from 8.5 kilometres of beach. This surpassed the previous year’s achievement of 7.1 tonnes from 4 kilometre of beach. 

Liza Dicks, Arnhem Campaign Leader said the volume and density of debris was still a shock to the 11 experienced Sea Shepherd volunteers, many of whom had returned to Djulpan for a second time. 

Most surprising to the team on the first day was the astonishing sight of Djulpan covered with dozens and dozens of turtle tracks and nests.

Seeing so many turtle nests on the areas of Djulpan cleaned last year demonstrates that beach clean-ups make a direct difference for marine life. Their clean-ups have one goal – to remove as much plastic pollution as possible to give immediate relief to the area’s marine life.

Sadly, whilst cleaning up the beach the crew came across a number of turtles that had died as a result of debris including turtle hatchlings trapped in plastic containers and turtles found entangled in fishing nets. 

Green Sea Turtle (Image Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife)

Female turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs were documented navigating through plastic debris as they dug their nests. This shows the devastating impact and consequences that plastic is having on wildlife.

Volunteers also found evidence of animals biting or eating the plastic – clear bite marks were discovered from turtles and fish on a range of plastic packaging but notably, most bites were found on either food or personal care items.

Inspections and surveys of the remote 14-kilometre length of Djulpan found the entire coastal strip affected by pollution. Areas in and around the rocky outcrops were hardest hit with the high densities of broken plastic and fishing nets. The surveys also revealed there was a material difference in the first 2 kilometres of beach from last year – but still 50% of the debris had returned to Djulpan in a year. 

While seeing all this plastic is devastating, it also shows that beach cleans are key strategic tool in reducing plastic accumulation and giving protection to marine life in remote coastal areas. 

For Sea Shepherd, with their partnership with Dhimurru becoming stronger and their cultural and environmental outcomes becoming greater, they are looking forward to returning to Djulpan in October 2020 to achieve even more together.

When good people come together, ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary, for the benefit of the oceans and future generations.

Story Source: Sea Shepherd Australia

Learn more about Sea Shepherd’s remote beach clean-ups in Arnhem Land

Georgia Franc

Georgia is a media & communications student at the University of Melbourne and is pursuing a career in journalism. She also has a passion for foreign languages, writing and travel. She also currently works as an associate for an investment management company where she focuses on data research with input on various marketing processes.

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