Long-term marine litter monitoring in the remote great Australian Bight, South Australia

K Edyvane, A Dalgetty, P W Hone, J Higham, N Wace

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The Anxious Bay beach litter clearance is the longest running annual survey of ocean-based litter in Australia. It's remoteness from centres of human population and location (with respect to prevailing winds and currents) make it an ideal place for monitoring ocean or ship-based litter in Australia's southern oceans and particularly, the Great Australian Bight. Over the 1991-1999 period, a large but gradual decline in the amount of beach washed litter was recorded (with minor peaks recorded during the 1992 and 1994 surveys). Beach washed litter decreased by approximately 86%, from 344 kg recorded in 1991 (13.2 kg/km) to 49 kg in 1999 (i.e. 1.9 kg/km), reaching a maximum of 390 kg in 1992 (or 15 kg/km of beach). However, a sharp increase in litter was recorded in 2000 (i.e. 252 kg or 9.7 kg/km). This increase in litter yield in 2000 is probably due to stronger than average onshore surface flow (or Ekman Transport) in the western Eyre Peninsula and Bight region. Prior to the survey in 2000, the results appeared to indicate that ocean litter on Anxious Bay beach was beginning to level out at around 50-70 kg/year (i.e. 2-3 kg/km). As the beach surveys involve the assumption that the beach is completely cleared of litter, this may represent a baseline level for ocean-based litter in the region. The yields and type of litter collected from the annual survey indicates that the majority of litter washed ashore originates from commercial fishing activities within the Great Australian Bight. Most of the fishing-related litter was directly sourced to the Southern Rock Lobster Fishery (i.e. bait buckets, baskets, pots), the Great Australian Bight Trawl Fishery (i.e. codends, trawl nets) and the Southern Shark Fishery (i.e. monofilament gillnets and longlines). Between 1994 and 1999, large reductions were observed in the amount of bait straps (77% reduction), lobster bait baskets/buckets (86% reduction), nets/ropes (62% reduction) and floats/buoys (83% reduction). Significantly, fishing-related litter in the Bight has reduced at a slower rate than domestic litter. While the level of glass and soft plastics on the beach have both reduced by almost 93% (i.e. 103-7 kg and 119-8 kg, respectively), the level of hard plastics, has diminished at a slower rate, with reductions of only 75% (i.e. 122-30 kg). Some fisheries (i.e. rock lobster, Southern Shark Fishery) have shown marked reductions in fishing-related litter. This is probably due, to some extent, to significant reductions in fishing effort in the region, although this requires further investigation. The information from the Anxious Bay beach litter survey is crucial in monitoring trends in ocean litter in Australia's southern oceans and compliance with international litter regulations. While fishing-related litter remains the major source of ship-based or ocean litter in Australia's southern oceans, the continued reduction in ship-based litter since 1991 supports increasing compliance to MARPOL (Annex V) by commercial fisheries and shipping in the Great Australian Bight. While Australia participates in marine debris monitoring programs in the Antarctic (under CCAMLR), there is currently no national program or management framework to assess, manage and monitor ocean-based litter along Australia's coasts, and monitor compliance with MARPOL. Apart from the commitments under CCAMLR for Antarctic (and sub-Antarctic) marine environments, there are no other regional programs, guidelines or monitoring protocols or to assess and manage ocean litter in the Southern Ocean.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1060-1075
    JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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