Mother of plastics

SIX years after millions of plastic nurdles fouled Minim Cove in North Fremantle, authorities have been unable to stop them continually fouling the Swan River.

On Sunday the Sea Shepherd Marine Debris campaign held its annual Aussie Nurdle Hunt at Jenalup Beach on Point Walter, with 15 volunteers picking 2000 of the little plastic beads out of the riverbank in a couple of hours.

Clean-up coordinator Karolina Strittmatter says while some of the nurdles might have been from the 2016 spill, they were mostly black and the latest haul included scores of “clear and glittery” examples.

She described nurdles as the “mother of plastics”.

Tiny pellets that are melted down before being moulded into all manner of plastic products, nurdles pose significant environmental dangers due to how easily they can slip into the food chain. 

Their mini size and common white or black colour is often mistaken as food by fish and birds alike. 

Once consumed they can release toxins which mimic the sensation of a full stomach, leading to the animal dying of starvation. The plastic can also be passed onto humans and other animals if they eat an affected organism.

One of the problems facing organisations like Sea Shepherd is that regulatory authorities don’t really know how to deal with nurdles. Currently they’re only deemed “litter” meaning sites like Minim Cove or Jenalup Beach can’t be declared contaminated, which would trigger mandated action.

Former Sea Shepherd organiser Marina Hansen said after last year’s nurdle hunt she tried to have Jenalup Beach registered as contaminated, but didn’t even hear back from 

the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

There was some brighter news on the plastic front last week after a United Nations committee in Nairobe agreed to a global treaty to deal with plastic pollution.

Ms Strittmatter is hopeful but says the treaty’s impact on nurdles heavily “depends on the solutions” the UN proposes, which are still up for discussion.

In the meantime she urges the public to use the Sea Shepherd website to locate monthly community clean ups and encourages people to “go on their own and search through the sand” in their spare time to assist in the fight.

That’s exactly what Zdenka Martelli has been doing for over 10 years down at South Beach. 

Every morning she walks the sand as part of a small group, picking up all sorts of rubbish regardless of the weather, but says some treat it like an “ashtray”.

“You can’t walk over it; we need to look after the environment and sea life.” 

Neil Kidd started combing the beach “about 20 years ago” and says it’s important to think of the cycle of human actions in terms of how pollution damages the environment, the wildlife and eventually us. 

As a hobby Mr Kidd began turning the rubbish he found into artwork; his latest creation a frog holding a container filled with some of the cutlery he has collected.

One of Mr Kidd’s pieces sold first night at the recent City of Melville art awards whilst another two will be on display at Cockburn’s Show Off 17 event, which runs from March 26 to April 3 at Memorial Hall in Hamilton Hill. 


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