Cleaning up Australia subantarctic style
4 June 2004
How will you be spending World Environment Day 5 June 2004? If you are an expeditioner on Macquarie Island, chances are you will be cleaning up some of the tonnes of rubbish that wash up on this subantarctic island as marine debris from land and marine-based activities each year.
Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Antarctic, said 12 of the island's 18 wintering personnel at the Australian Antarctic Division's station on Macquarie Island would join like-minded people around the world in helping to clean up marine debris as part of this year's theme Wanted! Seas and Oceans—Dead or Alive?
"Much of the cleanup will occur on the west coast of this rugged, windswept island where a lot of the debris washes up," Dr Stone said.
"While the clean up will collect as much marine debris as possible, special emphasis will be on plastic fishing nets, ropes and other plastics that are particularly harmful to the wildlife in the area.
"Macquarie Island has a rich variety of wildlife. Elephant and fur seals breed on the island as do royal, king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins. The royal penguin is endemic to Macquarie Island and a penguin rookery at Hurd Point at the southern end of the island is home to over a million birds during the breeding season. Macquarie Island is also home to skuas, petrels and many different albatrosses.
"Sad to say, a lot of the litter is simply tossed overboard from fishing vessels of pirates more interested in taking a lucrative catch than ensuring the future health of the Southern Ocean environment. More than 70 per cent of all marine debris is plastic and every square kilometre of ocean is estimated to contain more than 18,000 pieces of plastic. A styrofoam cup can last up to 50 years, a plastic bottle 450 years and monofilament fishing net for up to 600 years.
"The effect on marine creatures can be devastating, causing painful injuries that can and do lead to slow and painful death through amputation or strangulation. It is estimated that about one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles are killed by plastic marine debris each year. Clearly, we owe it to the environment and to ourselves to be more vigilant when disposing of waste."
Macquarie Island is a Tasmanian State Reserve managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, with the Australian Antarctic Division providing the operational support for the scientific research program and for the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service ranger.
In 1996 Macquarie Island was nominated by the Australian Government for World Heritage listing.