Debbie Clement of Meerschaum Vale, is concerned about the amount of plastic rubbish on Patchs Beach. Inset (above and below left) are pictures she took of rubbish on the beach.
Debbie Clement of Meerschaum Vale, is concerned about the amount of plastic rubbish on Patchs Beach. Inset (above and below left) are pictures she took of rubbish on the beach. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

"Kilometres" of washed-up plastic turns beach into dump

WHEN Meerschaum Vale resident Debbie Clement stepped on to her nearest beach a few weeks ago she felt like she had walked headlong into a scene resembling a refuse tip in India.

The high-tide mark at Patchs Beach, between Broadwater and South Ballina was teeming with a "kilometres-long" arc of rubbish - mainly plastic bottles, jars, and toys - stretching as far as the eye could see.

"It was a rubbish tip," Ms Clement said.

A few days later most of the rubbish had mostly gone, presumably back out to sea - but not before leaving a trail of buried trash under sand and in the dunes.

Ms Clement sought action from Ballina Council, the NSW Department of Environment of Heritage and the Lands Department, but said she was handballed from department to department.

"They've all been saying it's out of their jurisdiction," she said.

"People all over the world come to Northern NSW because it's so beautiful and clean - to live here is a privilege, and I feel it's our responsibility to deal with this collectively."

According to Southern Cross University Associate Professor Steve Smith from the National Marine Science Centre, beach pollution is an escalating problem.

Between 2009 and 2011, his students recorded a 25-fold increase with the number of debris found on local beaches in the Coffs Harbour region.

Assoc Prof Smith said the majority of rubbish finds its way into stormwater drains and estuaries, then washes out to sea after big rainfall events, pushed by winds and swells to the nearest beach.

The expert on beach pollution said recent statistics from the Australian Marine Conservation Society revealing there are over 100 million pieces of rubbish littering our coastline - one for every five residents - were conservative.

Some 74% of the rubbish was estimated to be plastic, with fragments of plastic often killing or maiming sea animals which treat them as food. Only NSW and QLD remain opposed to the plan, instead proposing more bins in the street.

NOTHING FANTASTIC ABOUT OCEAN PLASTIC

  • The biggest concentration of seaborne plastic in the world, the North Pacific Gyre, contains a sea of tiny plastic particles bigger than Queensland.
  • Assoc Prof Smith has found plastic refuse from mainland Australia at Lord Howe Island, 600 km east of Port Macquarie.
  • According to Greenpeace, around 100 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year of which about 10 percent ends up in the sea.
  • More than a million sea-birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement.


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