THE pristine shores of South Ballina Beach are starting to look more like a rubbish dump than a coastal nature reserve.
A huge amount of rubbish - including plastics, bottles, bait bags and abandoned fishing gear - has been gathered up by Australian Seabird Rescue's general manager, Kath Southwell.
She visited the beach over the weekend and was overwhelmed by the amount of rubbish.
Ms Southwell started collecting it so she could dispose of it properly, but quickly realised it was going to be a massive task.
So yesterday she enlisted the help of some of the ASR volunteers.
"The amount of rubbish on this beach is just shocking," she said.
"I used to walk along South Ballina Beach every day and collect at least two bagfuls of it.
"But I haven't been doing that for a while.
"I recently had a phone call from someone saying the situation was really bad at the moment, so I went over there and I was just disgusted."
Rubbish has been thrown into the dunes, which is prime nesting habitat for shorebirds such as the endangered pied oystercatcher.
Most of the rubbish is plastic, which is a major problem for marine life, particularly turtles, which suffer from floating syndrome and eventually starve to death.
Ms Southwell said it was "heartbreaking".
"I've seen turtles die from consuming one tiny bit of plastic," she said.
"It's so hard because turtles are beautiful creatures.
"My main point is, please take your rubbish with you when you leave the beach.
THE PLASTIC PROBLEM
- 70% of rubbish in the oceans is plastic
- Common items include plastic bags, drink bottles and fast food containers
- In every square kilometre of ocean there are more than 119,000 pieces of plastic
- Plastic bags take 450 years of break out in sea water
SOURCE: Clean Up Australia