A closer look at ocean pollution in Esperance

CSIRO will undertake the world's largest marine pollution survey, working with countries across the globe to help them assess and reduce the amount of litter entering the oceans.

Some of the world's top 20 polluters will take part in the project including China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States, plus other countries including Australia, South Korea and Taiwan.

CSIRO senior scientist Dr Denise Hardesty said the project would provide hard numbers on the amount of litter entering the ocean by using real data collected on coastlines and cities across the globe.

"Up until now we've been relying on estimates from World Bank data, so this will be the first time anyone has brought together a group of countries to look at exactly how much litter is entering the oceans," she said.

"We will be able to see where the hotspots lie by looking at how people, wind, the shape of the land and storm water moves rubbish into the ocean and then give advice on how to improve this based on science-based interventions."

Locally, South Coast NRM coastal program leader Dylan Gleave said plastic was the major contributor to ocean pollution in Esperance.

“Most people consider Esperance to be pristine and beautiful on face value,” he said.

“But once you start digging around in the sand you’d be surprised by the amount of plastics we find.

Micro plastic in particular is what Mr Gleave was concerned about, which occurs as plastic litter slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.

It winds up in all sorts of places and is often mistaken as food by marine animals.

Mr Gleave said it was only recently that micro plastics were identified as a major issue for marine and coastal environments.

“It’s only in the last decade that people have taken notice of micro plastics,” he said.

“In that time, we’ve noticed more plastics showing up on some of our more remote locations down here.”

Mr Gleave said there was a personal responsibility everyone could take in stopping pollution.

“Too often ocean pollution is put into the ‘too hard basket’ because it is such a big issue,” he said.

“But there is a lot we can do individually, and collectively we can make a difference.

“If you take away rubbish when you visit our lovely beaches you’ll make a difference.”

Esperance Shire chief executive officer Matthew Scott said a recent workshop with environmental groups identified that the community should set a leading example for waste management.

“This highlighted priorities such as no organic waste going to landfill, reducing business waste, a community that actively avoids single use products and a community that is empowered and motivated to minimise waste,” he said.

“Each individual can look to avoid and reduce the amount of single use products they use.”

Mr Scott said the shire is investigating approaches by other local governments in handling plastic bags in the community.

“Avoiding the use of plastic bags is something the Esperance community needs to drive with the support of our local businesses,” he said. 

“The Shire is closely watching how East Fremantle is handling this, with the introduction of their new local law on single use plastic bags and the response from their local community.

“Previous attempts by local governments to ban plastic bags have not been supported by State Parliament, however there is a shift in the air and everyone is embracing the idea making a difference.”​