THE state environmental watchdog, Fremantle council, the Fremantle Port Authority and environmental groups are investigating how millions of tiny black plastic pellets ended up in the Swan River along North Fremantle and Mosman Park this week.
The pellets, known as nurdles, are the raw material used in manufacturing plastic products and are an environmental menace because of the ease in which they can enter the food chain.
Tens of thousands of nurdles were first noticed by people walking along the Northbank foreshore on Wednesday afternoon.
The Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign was notified and organiser Marina Hansen says about 25 volunteers faced chilly winds and fading light to try and clean up the mess.
“Nurdles are little lentil-size pellets, and because they’re too tiny to pick up by hand, the crew had to sieve through the beach sand to pick them up,” Ms Hansen told the Herald.
Ms Hansen said there had been anecdotal reports the pellets were coming from stormwater drains, while Fremantle ports’ manager of external affairs Ainlie de Vos says no link could be found to port activities.
Liza Dicks from Sea Shepherd took part in the clean-up and said it looked like the pellets were new and had only just gone into the water.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve found nurdles, but usually you see that the fish have bitten them and they’ve been worn a bit; these were still shiny,” Ms Dicks said.
“There’s a lot of plastic manufacturers in Perth so they must be from one of these or on their way to one of these.”
Despite the volunteers’ efforts, on Thursday morning members of Plastic Free July went to investigate reports more had been spotted in Minim Cove and according to the organisation’s founder Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, there were millions trapped in the cove’s reeds.
“These are incredibly toxic to marine life,” Ms Prince-Ruiz said.
“It looks like some sort of food, so the fish eat them, and also birds end up eating the fish so they are eating the plastic too, and of course people still eat fish so they are also eating the plastic.”
According to Scottish-based environmental charity FIDRA, nurdles start to attract toxins such as DDT and PCBs once they get into the marine environment. They also break down into minuscule pieces which end up lodged in the tissues of bottom-feeding sea creatures like lobsters or shellfish.
Last year the Victorian government imported Operation Clean Sweep from the US because of nurdle pollution in Port Phillip Bay. The initiative was established by the Society of the Plastics Industry more than 20 years ago in response to concerns about its members’ pellets.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said he asked staff to look into the pollution.
by STEVE GRANT