250 Million Pieces of Trash at Remote Top End Australian Beach

Friday, 06 Sep, 2019

A Sea Shepherd beach clean-up campaign in Northeast Arnhem Land has further exposed the catastrophic impact of marine plastic pollution on mainland Australia.

The Shocking Reality

Over seven tonnes of marine plastic pollution was removed by ten volunteers from Sea Shepherd Australia and Indigenous Rangers from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation in a two-week-long collaboration at Djulpan Beach on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory.

During the campaign, Sea Shepherd conducted scientific surveys across the 14-kilometre stretch of beach in collaboration with marine plastic pollution expert Dr Jennifer Lavers.

Plastic pollution on Djulpan Beach.

Findings from the surveys concluded that there were an estimated 250 million pieces of marine debris present.

An aerial shot of the pile of trash removed from Djulpan during the remote beach clean-up.

The Campaign

So remote and untouched by human contact is Djulpan Beach, Rangers cut a 4WD track from the nearest road to allow access for vehicles and equipment.

The volume and density of plastic pollution removed from Djulpan was at a scale that the Sea Shepherd volunteers had not seen before on a mainland Australian beach, despite having facilitating over 600 clean-ups in the past three years.

Around 4.5 tonnes of the debris removed were consumer items including:

●  plastic lids, tops and pump sprays (14494 pieces) 

●  plastic drink bottles (6054 pieces)

●  cigarette lighters (3344 pieces
●  personal care and pharmaceutical packaging (4881 pieces)
●  thongs (3769 pieces)
●  toothbrushes, hair brushes and hair ties (775 pieces) and
●  toys such as chess pieces (64 pieces)

In many cases, the plastic items were so degraded that when volunteers went to pick them up, they crumbled into plastic dust.

The remaining 2.5 tonnes was made up of 72 different types of discarded fishing nets or ghost nets, some of which contained turtle bones.

Hundreds of plastic items were found with multiple animal bites, including those from fish and turtles. The stretch of coast that Djulpan is located on is home to six of the seven species of marine turtles which are all listed as ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Endangered’ under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. 

Much of the trash found along Cape Arnhem originates from ocean currents and trade winds above Australia that pushes the debris into the Gulf of Carpentaria in a clockwise direction before washing ashore.

“The marine debris littering our beaches saddens us. Not only is it killing our turtles and other marine life, it also pollutes some of our sacred areas. The rangers work hard to try and keep the beaches clean, but we need to stop the rubbish going into the ocean in the first place.”

- Managing Director of the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation Mandaka Marika.
A Sea Shepherd volunteer and Dhimurru Ranger with marine debris collected on Djulpan.

View images from our 2018 Arnhem clean-up:

Dhimurru Rangers and Sea Shepherd volunteers working together to protect Djulpan
Dhimurru Rangers retrieving a heavy duty fishing net
2.5 tonnes of nets were removed from the beach
Sea Shepherd volunteers cleaning a high density area of plastic pollution
Dhimurru Rangers have been cleaning the beaches along their IPA for more than 10 years
The only effective tools you can use for cleaning up the beach are your hands!
Djulpan is 14kms long and a significant turtle nesting site
Packaging from icy poles showing that turtles are eating plastic
The plastic comes ashore from as far away as SE Asia and beyond
Volunteers sorting and counting trash from the 2km data survey area
All plastic pieces bigger than a bottle top were picked up from the beach
4.5 tonnes of consumer plastic along just 4km of beach
A plastic container from the oil company Pertamina washes ashore with turtle bites
A heavy duty net, possibly from a fish farm, was dug out of the sand
Working together to clean a turtle nest from plastic pollution
Plastic pollution could be seen everywhere along Djulpan
Turtle bites on plastic bottles - just one bite can kill a turtle
Turtles mistake many types of plastic for food
The team weighing the trash - over 4.5 tonnes of plastic and 2.1 tonnes of nets
Aerial shot of some of the trash collected from just 2km of beach
Oil containers, polystyrene, lighters, bottle tops, thongs and water bottles were just some of the most numerous items found
6054 plastic bottles were removed from just 2km of beach
139,000 plastic items were removed from this remote Australian beach
Dhimurru Project Facilitator Luke Playford with Sea Shepherd volunteers with the 2.1 tonnes of nets removed during the clean-up

“What we found when we arrived at the beach on day one looked like something out of Armageddon, with plastic pieces visible across the entire beach as far as the eye could see.  This campaign clearly shows that even in a remote place like Arnhem Land, that nowhere is safe from human-induced plastic pollution”

- Sea Shepherd Australia’s National Marine Debris Coordinator Liza Dicks.

What can you do?

Australia simply cannot turn a blind eye to the impacts that plastic pollution is having – whether it be on Australian shores or at the regional or global level. We need to come together and act now as a collective to ensure there is a solution to this increasing global environmental issue.

Help us stem the tide of marine plastic pollution by joining a Sea Shepherd Australia Marine Debris Campaign clean-up near you!

Sea Shepherd volunteers collecting trash on Djulpan Beach.


“Ŋilmurru bukmak djäka wäŋawu” - All of us together, looking after country.

Untrashing Djulpan: The Film

Sea Shepherd's new film about the campaign, Untrashing Djulpan, tells the story of plastic pollution in our oceans today, highlighting the shocking truth that even Australia’s most remote and untouched coastlines are not safe.

Watch the film
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