Sea Shepherd traces ocean pollution back to Wellington micro-plastic manufacturers

Thursday, 04 Jul, 2019

After years of increasing amounts of plastic beads (“nurdles”) turning up at Sea Shepherd’s regular marine debris cleans at Evans Bay in Wellington, the major source of the pollution has been found.

Plastic beads ("nurdles") are regularly turning up at Evans Bay in Wellington (Photo Credit: Sea Shepherd).

“The fact that it's getting worse means more is being dumped out there," says Mandy Coleman (Wellington Coordinator and Sea Shepherd NZ Management).

Sea Shepherd’s Wellington crew and supporters have been running monthly marine debris clean-ups at Evans Bay (by Wellington Airport) for over six years. Evans Bay appears to naturally receive a substantial amount of the capital’s water borne trash due to currents in the harbour. Large amounts of consumer items such as plastic straws (997 found at one cleanup) and lollipop sticks (1034 found) turn up at each clean.

These are carried down Wellington’s storm water drains, out to sea and end up at the local bay. More disturbingly though Mandy and Michael Coleman have seen an increase in plastic beads (“nurdles”) turning up. These require extra patience and manpower to remove as they are only a few millimetres each in size and painstakingly have to be scooped up by hand. During a recent marine debris clean-up six bags of plastic beads were removed in just under two hours.

However what Sea Shepherd crew and supporters are finding and removing is only a fraction of the amount that is regularly released into the sea as a contaminant. Micro-plastics such as these nurdles are particularly hazardous to marine life as they are frequently mistaken for food by fish and sea birds. Removal of these toxic plastics is given high priority by Sea Shepherd Marine Debris clean-up crews operating around the globe.

Over the last few years Sea Shepherd Wellington has traced these nurdles back to at least four plastic manufacturers on the other side of the harbour in Seaview (Petone) which is over 11 kilometres away. One such company, IML Plastics appears to be one of the worst offenders.

Sea Shepherd volunteers collecting nurdles and plastic pollution at Evans Bay (Image Credit: Sea Shepherd).

Volunteers have documented spills around this factory and others in this industrial area out in the Hutt Valley. Mandy Coleman says they have seen the plastic waste "spilled all over the property". On one occasion Mandy saw a forklift carrying a ripped bag of plastic and letting it spill out everywhere.

Hutt City Council is now working with IML to install storm water drain filters to stop the beads getting into the harbour but Michael Coleman (Sea Shepherd Wellington Coordinator) says they were told about this proposal way back in 2014 and they are still yet to see any action. Sea Shepherd believe this is a reactive ambulance type solution and much more needs to be done to rectify the issue at the source.

“That's stopping the contaminants at the gutters, they should be stopping it at the source," Mr Coleman says.

Regulation is required to ultimately solve the issue and failure to comply should be met with hefty fines. Currently the Hutt Council have no plans to punish the ocean polluters which Sea Shepherd believe is disappointing and sends the wrong signal to recidivist offenders.

"If someone dumps rubbish somewhere they'll get a fine. Why is it not the same with a company doing this?" Mandy Coleman says.

Rather than wait for the Council and manufacturers to act Sea Shepherd plan to monitor and report on the situation and the progress to remedy the waste to ensure it’s not forgotten about. Updates to follow.

Nurdles strewn across a road in Kilbirnie (Image Credit: Sea Shepherd).
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