Turtle Nesting Beach in Australia’s Arnhem Land Trashed by Plastic Pollution

Turtle Nesting Beach in Australia’s Arnhem Land Trashed by Plastic Pollution

A remote beach clean-up campaign between Sea Shepherd Australia and the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation has exposed the unrelenting plastic pollution crisis along northern Australia’s coastlines.

For the second year in a row, Sea Shepherd volunteers and Indigenous Rangers from Dhimurru have joined forces for an intensive beach clean-up at Djulpan in Northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Djulpan is a 14 kilometre beach, two and a half hour’s drive by 4WD from the nearest town of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory.

The Indigenous Rangers from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation have responsibility for conserving and protecting the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), an area comprising approximately 550,000 hectares of Yolgnu land and sea country in northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

The latest collaboration has resulted in 12.1 tonnes of trash – over a tonne a day – being removed from an important nesting area for Vulnerable and Endangered turtles on the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

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Dhimurru Rangers and Sea Shepherd working in partnership to remove plastics and other pollution from Djulpan in North East Arnhem Land.
Aerial photograph of fishing nets and other marine debris on Djulpan, a sacred and remote beach in Arnhem Land.

Each year, Cape Arnhem’s spectacular coastline is inundated with marine plastic pollution, washing ashore via ocean currents and trade winds from as far away as South East Asia. For the Yolgnu people, Djulpan is a culturally significant place. 

Dhimurru Senior Cultural Advisor Rrawun Maymuru said, “This country of Northeast Arnhem Land has got its own songline and we don’t sing about plastic. We don’t sing about the water coming in with plastic. This is not in our lore.”

Using mainly their hands and limited equipment Sea Shepherd crew, working alongside the rangers, removed 1,402 bags of plastic trash including consumer plastics and 86 different types and sizes of ghost nets from 8.5 kilometres of beach in just ten days. This campaign surpassed the previous year’s achievement in which 7.1 tonnes of marine debris was removed from four kilometres of beach.

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Working to clean up the sacred and remote beach in Arnhem Land.
A truckload of marine debris removed by Sea Shepherd crew and Dhimurru Rangers.

Sea Shepherd has just released disturbing footage from the clean-up at Djulpan, including green turtles pushing through plastic as they struggle to make nests and a dead turtle hatchling trapped in a plastic container.

Sea Shepherd Australia’s Arnhem Campaign Leader Liza Dicks, said “We knew what we were in for this year and unfortunately came prepared to see the shoreline devastated with plastic. What we weren’t expecting was the number of nests and turtle tracks up and down the beach, which gave us the inspiration and greater determination to cover more ground and remove debris from this critical sea turtle nesting habitat.”

Marine turtles which are found along the coast of Arnhem Land include Flatback turtle, Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle, Loggerhead turtle and Olive Ridley turtle. The Australian Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 lists these sea turtle species as either endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

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Sea Shepherd is hoping to return to Djulpan in October 2020 to again remove as much plastic debris from the beach as possible to ensure that marine life on this coastal area is safe from the impacts of plastic. 

Ms Dicks said “Although seeing all this plastic is heartbreaking it also shows that beach cleans are a key strategic tool in reducing plastic accumulation and giving protection to marine life in remote coastal areas.” 

Nilmurru bukmak djaka wa?awu.”  – All of us together, looking after country. 

Media release submitted by Sea Shepherd Australia. All images supplied. Cover image of Sea Shepherd crew member holding up a dead turtle entangled in fishing gear.

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