The world's largest survey of coastal trash has found that illegal dumping is a main source of rubbish on beaches in Australia.
Researchers combed the vast Australian coastline at intervals of about 100 kilometers, and have compiled the world's largest collection of data on marine trash.
The survey was orchestrated by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and involved conservation groups and petroleum giant Shell.
Students, teachers, scientists and employees of Shell were enlisted to comb beaches around the country as part of the three-year project.
Their work rejects the notion that debris washed up on the Australian coast is the result of ocean currents bringing trash from other countries.
The report states that littering and illegal dumping causes the majority of coastal debris in Australia, and co-author Dr. Chris Wilcox said the problem is worse nearer metropolitan areas.
“As you get closer to a city along the coastline you see more and more stuff. It is not necessarily just people living it on the beach; it is also getting transported out through storm water drains and into creeks, and down the creeks into rivers and into the bays. So, you can see the plume of debris along the coastline and offshore as you approach Sydney. If you spend any time on ships and you want to guess whether you are close to a city or not, you just look over the side and start counting stuff,” Wilcox stated.
The report said this marine debris posed not only a navigation hazard to shipping but could damage coral reefs and tourism, while killing and injuring wildlife.
The survey found that about 75 percent of the trash along the Australian coast is plastic.
Researchers say the waste is having a devastating effect on seabirds. Smaller turtles also ingested the debris, possibly because soft, clear plastic resembled its natural prey, jellyfish.
Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and has around 50,000 kilometers of coastline.