• Plastic pollution is a major problem in far north Queensland. (AAP)Source: AAP
There are calls for the senate inquiry into the growing problem of marine plastic pollution, to shift its focus away from city coastlines to northern Australia.
Andrea Booth

19 Feb 2016 - 4:22 PM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2016 - 6:39 PM

Heidi Taylor, the CEO of marine health NGO Tangaroa Blue Foundation in Cape York, wants the current senate inquiry into Australia's rising level of plastic pollution to consider the impact on Cape York's Salt Water people. 

Ms Taylor told NITV News that Cape York, Gulf of Carpentaria and Queensland's east coast does not receive the same support as city coastlines such as Bondi Beach, even though those areas were far more impacted by plastics pollution.

"Bondi Beach's local council removes the litter, but when you're dealing with the volume of rubbish that we do, the funding is so short term.

"It's such an overwhelming issue."

She says the annual five-day clean up in Cape York that collects about one tonne of rubbish per kilometre - of which 94 percent is plastic - is not enough support.

"One event is not going to fix the problem," she says.

Ms Taylor adds that she is concerned about the potential health implications on locals given seafood forms a majority of their diet.

Governments have not yet conducted research into the effects, Ms Taylor says, but judging by the amount of rubbish, "it doesn't look like it will be a good news story."  

"Communities rely on catching their own fish, and eating what's in the natural environment," she says. 

"If we have that amount of plastic on the beaches, human health impacts are going to be seen in those communities."

She says the plastics pollution arrives from other countries in the region.

"Of course there's always going to be a percentage of local litter, but it far outweighs the plastic coming from elsewhere.

"The food labels indicate a lot of the plastics pollution come from other countries," she says, advising a regional approach to minimising it.

Official figures don't capture the extent of pollution 

A CSIRO survey of sites along the Australian coastline revealed that there is up to 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.

However, Dave West of the Aboriginal environment organisation Boomerang Alliance told NITV News that local rangers were returning different figures.

He says they were measuring 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes.

"The government is underestimating by 400 per cent to 500 per cent," he says.

Mr West adds he is concerned about how plastics are affecting marine life in the region, such as turtles.

"The impact on turtles is just horrendous," he said.

"Turtles species in particular are vulnerable to entanglement," he said.

Mr West wants Australia to better enforce Section 13 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 that prohibits a person from engaging in driftnet fishing in the Australian Fishing Zone or outside of it from an Australian boat.

"Four hundred turtles were entangled in nets last year.

"If we can stop the boats, we can stop the fish nets."

Call to introduce federal clean water law

Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who pushed for the senate inquiry, told NITV News he wants to change the Constitution and implement a federal law on clean water.

"Currently we don't have a federal law," he says, adding Australia should implement one akin to the US government's Clean Water Act 1972 in an effort to combat plastics pollution.

"It really is a disgrace how little attention the government is taking."

He says the government has not yet collected information, researched and monitored the oceans, tasks it was supposed to commence in 2009.

"We're calling on the government to answer why there has been no progress. It's obvious they've spent no money on research," he says.

"This issue has been blown about for so many years, and it's going to be catastrophic if we don't do something about it."

But he says the government has the ability to make an immediate difference regarding certain plastics pollution such as microbeads, a type of microplastic found in skin and hair care products.

He cites the Federal Department of Health's Cosmetics Standard legislation, under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth), which can be amended to stop the flow of microbeads into waterways.