Marine Plastic Pollution on Remote Cocos Keeling Islands, Offshore Australia

Thursday, 16 May, 2019

Remote Australian Islands home to 414 million pieces of plastic pollution.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CKI) are often referred to as ‘the jewel of the Indian Ocean.’  Encompassing 27 small islands located off the northwest coast of Australia, the CKI are home to many species of marine animals, and it is a strategically important site for nesting seabirds.

In 2017, Sea Shepherd Australia’s Marine Debris team worked alongside a leading research scientist in the field of plastic pollution, Dr Jennifer Lavers. The aim was to carry out the first comprehensive field survey on the CKI, to establish how affected by plastic and marine debris these unique islands have been.

Findings from the survey have just been published in the scientific journal, Nature.

The pristine beaches of the CKI.

Shocking findings from the survey have shown that plastic accumulation is more severe than previously thought, with a conservative estimate of 414 million pieces of debris present on the islands’ beaches. Of this estimate, 95 percent of the debris was found to be plastic.

Sea Shepherd’s Marine Debris Campaign is made up of volunteers around Australia who conduct beach clean-ups every weekend. For several years, the team on CKI - along with help from the local community - have worked together to remove thousands of pieces of rubbish.

National Coordinator, Liza Dicks, was a member of the team who conducted the research survey on the atoll.

”This research survey on CKI is a bit different for us, but it’s important to show that our remote islands and coastlines around Australia are being inundated with plastic litter that washes in from the ocean. Collaborations with scientists like Jennifer Lavers are important because they allow us to collect and publish data on this issue to further understand it and work towards long-term solutions. ”

“For the last 17 years I have been visiting the islands, and each year I have witnessed increasing amounts of plastic impacting this otherwise pristine atoll. Each time I walk along the beaches, I am staggered by the amount of plastic that is accumulating here.”

Plastic debris found on the white-sand beach of the CKI.

The survey looked at surface and sub-surface debris to a depth of 10cm across 25 sites. Of the 414 million pieces of plastic, one quarter was identified as disposable items.

“This is a reflection of our lifestyles,” said Liza. “Masses of single-use items are used for a few minutes before being discarded.”

Microplastics accounted for over half of the debris recorded, and the impacts these have on marine life and seabirds are seen in all oceans around the world.

"Plastic has created a critical environmental disaster, and like any disaster, there is no simple answer, but we do know that it must be addressed at a global level and with industry taking social responsibility for the products they produce" - Marine Debris National Coordinator Liza Dicks. 

We all have a part to play, and together we can all work to #StemtheTide of plastic pollution.

You can take direct action and join the Sea Shepherd Crew at one of our monthly clean-ups.

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Read the full research paper here:

A pod of dolphins at the CKI.
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