Microplastic: not fantastic

A few weeks ago, Boomerang Alliance came to the Gold Coast to sample microplastics evident along the shoreline of our waterways. Boomerang Alliance is the peak community voice on waste and recycling in Australia, working on key aspects of marine plastic pollution and waste for over a decade. The organisation undertakes field trips in major east coast cities to explain the extent of marine plastic pollution.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. Sooner or later, every piece of plastic that enters the marine environment will abrade and degrade until it reaches microplastic size or smaller.

These materials are a primary threat to biodiversity – 96% of the food chain are likely to digest them and the particles can then pass from the gut into the bloodstream.

The extent of microplastics is a huge, yet mostly invisible problem. Due to their small size, they are not seen unless down on hands and knees, sifting through the sand. To sample for them, we mark out 1x1m grids along the high tide line and collect all the microplastic we find.

What we found on the Gold Coast is that,on average, there are approximately 60,000 pieces of microplastic along each kilometre of shoreline (with some areas containing up to 138,000 pieces per kilometre). That doesn’t include the amount of plastic floating around Gold Coast canal estates or those that have sunk to the bottom of waterways. Global research shows that just 10-15% of marine plastic pollution is found on the shoreline with similar quantities found floating and the remainder (70-80%) likely to have sunk into sediment on sea and canal beds.

While this sounds like a huge amount, the extent of microplastic found on the Gold Coast is not particularly high. Similar exercises in Sydney Harbour and Port Phillip in Victoria show results often 5-10 times higher than the Gold Coast. However, the real concern is that the extensive waterfront land (890kms) that is a feature of the Gold Coast means that in total there could be some 53 million pieces of microplastic along the greater Gold Coast coastline.

Boomerang Alliance founder and National Policy Director Dave West, said it’s virtually impossible for local government to stop microplastic once it’s entered our waterways.

Even if we capture 99% of all plastic waste, some 3-15 million pieces of microplastic will be released into Gold Coast waterways every year,” West said.

“The ramifications for fish, oysters, sea birds, turtles and other marine species ingesting microplastic is a genuine long term threat to Gold Coast’s magnificent biodiversity and in turn threatens the tourist income that is the lifeblood of the economy.”

Recently, the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) Frontiers Report identified “the threat to human health posed by the alarming amount of plastic waste in our oceans” as one of six key emerging environmental issues of our times. The report highlights that “microplastics are found in water systems throughout the world and in the stomachs of everything from zooplankton to whales.”

A recent Senate Inquiry into marine microplastics highlighted that there was a lack of leadership on marine plastic pollution at Federal and State Government level.

“The community is busting its hump to keep the Gold Coast clean – but state and federal government is overdue to support the community effort,” West said. “We can cut the amount of plastic entering our waterways by 70% now through initiatives like adopting a container deposit system and banning single use plastic bags or else there is little chance of stopping the toxic tide of marine plastic pollution swamping our beaches and waterways.”

To find out more about the work of Boomerang Alliance, and how you can help visit boomerangalliance.org.au.

Key facts:

– On average there are some 60,000 pieces of microplastic found on each klm of Gold Coast waterfront.

– Between 1,300 and 1,500 tonnes of plastic litter is generated annually on and around the Gold Coast.

– It is estimated that there is approx. 890 klm of waterfront property on the Gold Coast (public and private land along Nerang River, Tallebudgera Creek Currumbin Creek, the Gold Coast Broadwater, South Stradbroke Island, Coomera River, canal estates and coastal beaches between Coolangatta and Southport Spit).

– A similar quantity of fugitive microplastic waste is likely to be generated from plastic factories, waste and recycling facilities, and from the use of plastics and synthetics in people’s daily life (e.g. a single load of household washing has been shown to release some 1,000 microscopic plastic fibres into our waterways).


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