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Help save our seas from a tide of filth!

7 March 2008 – Wellington
Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Help save our seas from a tide of filth!

Forest & Bird’s beach clean-up at Wellington’s Oriental Bay gathered a mountain of garbage including everything from a used syringe to a hat.

The beach clean-up was held as part of Seaweek to raise public awareness of how much rubbish gets into our oceans, and what people can do to help stop the sea being used as a rubbish dump.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says the amount and volume of rubbish collected in just two hours along just one beach in Wellington’s inner harbour was a wake-up call about the threat to the marine environment posed by littering.

“We just couldn’t believe how much rubbish was collected in a relatively small area: 30 kilograms. Not only was most of the rubbish a threat to the marine environment and marine life – some of it, such as a used syringe, sanitary pads and condoms, and broken glass, posed a direct risk to people using this popular beach.”

The most common material present was plastic, which comprised 89% of the total number of items of rubbish collected. This was concerning because plastic can remain in the marine environment for up to 250 years.

Volunteers were also surprised by the number of cigarette butts found – more than 2000. While many people think cigarette butts easily break down in the environment, they are made of plastic fibre and remain in the environment for up to five years.

“Many smokers don’t think throwing their butts on the ground as ‘littering’. We’d like people to know that it is not OK – the beach is not an ashtray!” Kirstie Knowles says.

The rubbish gathered included:
- 1886 pieces of soft plastic (the kind used for packaging)
- 1396 pieces of hard plastic
- 831 food wrappers (plastic)
- 2074 cigarette butts
- 675 bottle tops (metal, plastic and foil)
- 215 pieces of Polystyrene foam
- 169 pieces of glass
- 152 drinking straws
- 131 lollipop/iceblock sticks (mostly plastic)
- 82 pieces of rope/string
- 78 pieces of balloon
- 76 parking tickets/coupons
- 51 pieces of food
- 50 plastic bags
- 49 plastic forks and spoons
- 24 foam ear plugs
Some of the more unusual items collected included a car key, lipsticks, tweezers, a hat, a firework, a DVD, a baby’s dummy and a tennis ball.

(NB: The clean-up collected relatively few whole bottles and cans because these large items are regularly cleared from the beach by Wellington City Council machinery.)

The clean-up was conducted by Forest & Bird staff and volunteers – with extra help from Minister for the Environment Trevor Mallard. Afterwards all the rubbish collected was sorted and counted to analyse what kinds of rubbish are getting into the harbour, and data will be used by local schools studying the marine environment.

Kirstie Knowles says the clean-up found many balloons (many from promotions held by Wellington businesses and events) and a large number of ice-block sticks and drinking straws which probably came from nearby food outlets.

“Wellingtonians love their beautiful harbour and the last thing they want is to see it used as a rubbish dump. We just ask that people enjoying food and drink at the beach take care to dispose of it carefully in rubbish bins or take it home, and ask retailers to think about the packaging they use and how it will be disposed.”

The amount of rubbish found during the Wellington beach clean-up would not be much different from that found at other beaches around New Zealand, Kirstie Knowles says. Littering affects our oceans and our beaches right around the country – and around the world. We can all do our bit to help stop our oceans being treated like rubbish dumps.”

WHAT HARM DOES RUBBISH CAUSE TO MARINE LIFE?

Entanglement. Many marine creatures are killed after becoming entangled in rubbish. More than 140 species of marine animals, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds, have been reported entangled in marine litter.
Ingestion. Ingestion of plastic can lead to dehydration, choking, starvation, poisoning, internal damage and deaths of a variety of marine animals – from sea turtles to seabirds – which mistake pieces of plastic for food.
Smothering. When litter settles on the sea floor it can smother animals that live there by blocking out light and nutrients.

HOW LONG DOES RUBBISH REMAIN IN THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT?

Orange peel – 2 years
Cigarette butts – 1-5 years
Plastic bags – 20-50 years
Tin cans – 50 years
Aluminium cans – 80-100 years
Plastic bottles – 250 years
Glass – I million years

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

- Be careful about how you dispose of litter – put it in rubbish bins or take it home to dispose or recycle.
- Don’t discard used fishing gear, such as lines and nets, in or near the sea.
- Reduce the amount of you litter you produce in the first place, especially plastic and Styrofoam. Take re-usable shopping bags instead of accepting plastic bags at the supermarket.
- Recycle as much of your rubbish as possible.
- Don’t put waste substances, such as paint, oil and detergent, down drains – it will end up in the sea where it can harm marine life.
- Join a beach clean-up, and get your friends and community involved. You could even “adopt” a piece of coastline and regularly hold clean-up days.

ends


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