New nurdle effort

BEACH cleanups later this month will try to clear plastic nurdles from Bathers Beach and Minim Cove and determine what threat the pollutants pose for Perth’s waters. 

Sea Shepherd Australia admin coordinator Karolina Strittmatter says Fremantle and Jenalup Beach at Dyoondalup Point Walter are hotspots for the nurdles, which are the raw material used for manufacturing plastic objects.

“Ninety per cent of global hunts resulted in finding nurdles in 2022,” Ms Strittmatter said.

The Australian Marine Debris Database (AMDI) lists over 2400 sites across Australia that have been affected by nurdle spills.

In June 2022, over 300,000 nurdles drifted up to Minim Cove alone. 

Billions of nurdles, known in the industry as pre-production plastic pellets, are melted and moulded each year to make all kinds of plastic products, from bottles to car parts. 

Tangaroa Blue Foundation database officer Jodi Jones says there are no signs of stopping the production of plastic parts or the transport methods of nurdles. 

“During the shipping process to production sites around the world, spills occur and tons of nurdles end up in the ocean,” Ms Jones said.

“The pellets are also washed into the local waterways at plastic manufacturing plants, through faulty filter systems and logistical issues. 

“Strain the Drain is the future motto here,” she said.

Once nurdles enter oceans or rivers, like sponges, they can absorb an array of toxic chemicals and are often mistaken for food by birds, fish, sea turtles or shellfish. 

Around 230,000 tons of nurdles end up in oceans each year – the damage is equivalent to well documented global oil spills. 

Yet, unlike diesel, petrol and kerosene, the International Maritime Organisation’s dangerous goods code does not consider nurdles hazardous for safe storage and handling.

In 2019, 343 containers of pellets spilled into the North Sea. 

In 2020, a broken container on the cargo ship MV Trans Carrier lost 10 tonnes of pellets, which polluted the coasts of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. 

A second spill in 2020 occurred in South Africa that affected up to 2000 km of coastline. 

About 37 tonnes of nurdles are still unaccounted for.

In May 2021, the container ship X-Press Pearl caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean. 

According to the United Nations, most harm from the accident came from the spillage of 87 containers full of nurdles. 

While there is little proof the nurdles were responsible, the death count was 450 sea turtles, 45 dolphins and 8 whales which were washed ashore with nurdles in their bodies. 

The upcoming nurdle hunts at Bathers Beach on March 12 and at Mini Cove on March 26, will show where levels stand in Perth. 

From October 14-17 a broader WA beach clean-up will be another opportunity to get involved.


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