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August 31 2010

Inside Waste Weekly

Cleaning up in an Australian hotspot

A successful community clean up event or campaign is not defined solely by the quantity or quality of material that is collected, although these two factors are great for reporting and benchmarking. If a clean up initiative finds momentum and support within the community then it is more likely to find ongoing success in subsequent years, particularly if it is driven from outside the conventional waste management industries, writes Shenagh Gamble.

For the first time, a marine debris clean-up of Darwin Harbour was undertaken this year with the support and participation of more than 20 government, non-government and indigenous and community groups.

In July, more than 2.5 tonnes of rubbish were collected from Darwin’s coastlines and waters in the first ever Darwin Harbour Clean-Up, organised by the Northern Territory Seafood Council and OceanWatch Australia's SeaNet Program.

Funding was provided by the federal Caring for Our Country program via the NT NRM Board’s Coastcare Program because Darwin Harbour Catchment is listed as a ‘coastal hotspot’ by the Federal Government.

The catchment itself covers some 3,227 square kilometres in the north-eastern section of the Finniss River drainage basin. It surrounds Darwin Harbour and includes the urban areas of Darwin and Palmerston and outlying rural areas. The catchment features plains, rivers and freshwater wetlands as well as coastal and marine environments and holds significant social, economic, environmental and cultural importance for residents, tourists and industry in the Top End.

In total, 93 people collected rubbish and marine debris on land and from water - 50 on the Darwin City side and 43 ‘across the water’ on Cox Peninsula. Additionally, survey work was undertaken by Larrakia Nation’s Indigenous Sea Rangers prior to the clean up, identifying debris ‘hotspots’ to target on the day. The Larrakia people are the Aboriginal traditional owners of all land and waters of the greater Darwin area.

Some of the heaviest items collected on the day included 500kg of truck tyres pulled from the water around Fishermen’s Wharf, and 300kg of bundled floats and ropes taken by the police boat at East Arm. Seventeen submerged shopping trolleys were retrieved at the wharf and along the coast behind residential properties.

Along the coastline, beaches and in waterways a large number of container items such as plastic drink bottles (1,800) and aluminium cans (7,600) were collected - the Northern Territory Government’s plans to bring in container deposit legislation within a year and the Federal Government’s plans for tyre stewardship programs under the National Waste Policy appear timely.

Unlike many clean up initiatives that are driven by local government or operate under the broad umbrella of the waste management industry, Darwin’s event focused on the impact of marine debris on the natural environment. With a substantial commercial and recreational fishing industry, and close proximity to international fishing waters, Darwin is susceptible to large amounts of marine debris, as is much of Australia’s Top End.

This event was seen by the fishing industry as an opportunity to establish and strengthen links between stakeholder groups, including local government and community groups, and to develop an action plan for further monitoring and management.

This was certainly the attitude of many volunteers from the Belyuen Aboriginal community on the Cox Peninsula who thought the Clean Up was so successful that it should happen every month.

But one of the keys to the effectiveness of clean up events is that ’less is generally more‘. A monthly clean up would probably have a less noticeable impact and would start to feel like just another chore or general litter pick up – losing the anticipation of a ‘special’ day. Certainly there is something rewarding about taking an area that is a total mess and restoring it to something resembling its natural state.

Shenagh Gamble is sustainability programs coordinator at the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT). This is part of a regular series of updates designed to ensure we cover key developments in all jurisdictions. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LGANT.


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