Mapoon Smashes Thong Record

Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Tangaroa Blue and GhostNets Australian team members with their thong collection. Photo by Jen Goldberg.

Mapoon Smashes the Thong Record

Over five days in July 2013, 18 members of the Mapoon Land & Sea Rangers, a team from Conservation Volunteers Australia, GhostNets Australia and Tangaroa Blue set to the mammoth task of cleaning up the northern end of Cullen Point and Back Beach at Mapoon on the west of Cape York.

Though the beach is regularly patrolled by the Land & Sea Rangers who remove ghost nets (derelict fishing nets) and larger items, the amount of marine debris has been described by local residents as overwhelming.

Located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Mapoon is a hot spot for both ghost nets and other marine debris, predominately washing up from South East Asian because of prevailing currents and winds. Covering over half the beach (11.6 km) during the course of the week, the team removed a total of 3687kg filling over 403 clean up bags, as well as a lot of larger items that couldn't fit into bags. The totals included an unbelievable 7154 thongs (flip flops), 877 cigarette lighters and 2563 gill net floats identified as those employed in the illegal and unregulated fisheries operating in the Arafura Sea region.

Getting a figure for the number of net floats on the beach is another indicator (besides the nets recovered) of the scope of the problem, says GhostNets Australia's coordinator Riki Gunn, who was in Indonesia, at the time, developing solutions to this issue through workshops with fishermen.

Beyond the immedicate and obvious positive outcome of a clean beach, eight huge silo bags of plastic were diverted from landill. With the help of My Pathways, these were transported to the Weipa Landfill, where the team from Transpacific put them through a compactor into bales, which was then be trucked to Brisbane for recycling. This is an inspiring result, and proves that with dedicated teamwork and coordination recycling in remote communities is possible.

"Mapoon is a marine debris hot spot, and a event like this is the best way to clean sweep the beach," Heidi Taylor Managing Director of Tangaroa Blue Foundation said, "not only does the beach look amazing, but the threat that all the debris poses to our marine life is also now removed, so the environment is also much healthier."

"The whole trip has been amazing – the Mapoon Community's welcome, the stunning scenery, the chance to work alongside Land and Sea Rangers and the satisfaction of knowing we removed a significant amount of rubbish from this special place. It was hard work, but the thong count competition spurred us on to keep collecting" said Ross Gelling Conservation Volunteers Team Leader.

The challenge was set to see if the team could remove more thongs than were collected during the 2012 Chilli Beach Clean Up near Lockhart River, and this record was easity beat with more than 7154 thongs found. Organisers are hoping that clean ups such as this can continue to be funded, and become an annual occurrence across the Cape.

Story by Heidi Taylor from Tangaroa Blue.