• Yolngu rangers are on the frontline, working to protect marine life, as the amount of rubbish continues to increase steadily each year. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
Yolŋu beaches are being inundated with tones of rubbish and impacting the lives of marine species and local communities.
Brooke Fryer

6 Dec 2019 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 9 Dec 2019 - 10:22 AM

An Aboriginal environment group from northeast Arnhem Land is working tirelessly to protect marine wildlife from plastic debris believed to have washed ashore from Indonesia and the Indo-pacific.

The Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation - working to protect 70 kilometres of coastline along the Gove Peninsula within the Gulf of Carpentaria from pollution -  have said there is between 800 kilos to a tonne of plastic per kilometre along their once pristine coastline.

The Yolngu rangers from the corporation are on the frontline, working to protect marine life, as the amount of rubbish continues to steadily increase steadily each year. 

“It’s heartbreaking… it is very concerning and we just have to be aware that it is real and it is happening now,” said ranger and Yolngu man Yama Banu.

“We usually organise a week or a couple of days on cleaning up our beaches… we also clean up local rubbish too, around one-third of our work is collecting marine debris.

“The plastic that we collect is impacting most of our fish and turtle, and some of the birds eat it too.”

It isn’t just what is happening now that is concerning Mr Banu, but what it could be like in the near future.

“It makes me feel sad and just very worried to see what the future holds for the next generation, it is going to be worse… sad and frustrating,” he said.

Mr Banu also said the plastic debris was impacting Yolngu hunting areas and food sources.

“If we catch a turtle and we cut it up there is foreign pieces of plastic inside… it is a waste really and we can’t really eat it, it could be poisonous to us,” he said.

“Some of us go hunting every weekend, I go once every two weeks. Some areas are O.K. and some areas, we don’t go there, because there is a lot of plastic.”

Dhimurru has ten employed rangers working to protect the coast. But the group's project facilitator, Luke Playford, said it is not enough and they need more volunteers to help fight the threat to marine life.

The area is also an important nesting, foraging and breeding ground for a number of threatened marine creatures including six sea turtle species, who constantly find themselves tangled within the waste.

“A component of the debris we get is from the fishing industry so we get a lot of ghost nets and ropes which can tangle the turtles, or drown them or on the beach when they are tangled they can perish,” Mr Playford said.

“But we are also finding the turtles are eating a lot of the rubbish… turtles and fish are biting and chomping on a lot of the rubbish which is bad for them and hurtful to see.

“The turtles need good beaches for nesting and they do struggle to get through the plastic in some cases… then the additional challenges of the temperature rises.”

Along with the turtles, at least 77 species of marine wildlife in Australia are impacted by entanglement or ingestion of debris, including 34 species of seabirds, dugongs and 10 species of sharks and stingrays. 

Animals are also feeling the secondary effects due to their habitats being swamped by plastic and rubbish. 

The rangers said The Gulf of Carpentaria is inundated with some of the highest densities of rubbish in the world, collecting around two-and-a-half tonnes of rubbish across a 3.5 km stretch in 2018, as part of their annual marine debris survey.

Mr Playford said Dhimurru was currently “on par” with last year's total of debris.

“It was a very similar year and these are the biggest years we have ever been able to take off the beaches… the trend is, we are getting more marine debris each year and therefore more to deal with,” he said.

The work the corporation have done and continue to do hasn’t gone unnoticed, as they prepare themselves for the National Landcare Awards in Sydney next year. 

“We are very excited to attend that and the prospect of winning that, it is a morale booster,” said Mr Playford.

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