If you’re surfing somewhere between Newcastle and Sydney’s northern beaches today, you might have found a packet of COVID-protector surgical masks on the beach. Or maybe 10.
The masks, mostly still in their plastic packaging, have been washing up all day.
They’re part of 40 containers of freight, including medical gear, household appliances, and building materials, that fell off a vessel called the APL England somewhere well off Sydney over the weekend, after it apparently suffered an engine failure in the heavy seas.
The boat is now in the Port of Brisbane anchorage being investigated by Australian Maritime.
Meanwhile, its cargo is spreading all over our beaches.
We talked with Mandy Marechal, of Take 3 For The Sea, an organisation we’ll all know. She was on the scene at Soldiers Beach, where she and others had just rescued a tiny loggerhead turtle stranded in the dune. (They called it Neve, and it’s now on the way to a recovery centre.)
She says that after the storms, there’s now a huge amount of microplastic fragments in the beach debris along with the facemasks — older stuff that may have been around for months or longer.
Microplastic particles are hard to spot in the wrack. But a drop like the APL England’s can be an opportunity to bring the problem to an audience. “When we have a situation like containers going overboard, it tends to focus attention on the issue of ocean-borne plastics,” Mandy told us from the Soldiers Beach track.
“People hear about this one big event and it can open their eyes to the broader issues. Often it’s the kids educating their parents.”
She says around 70 per cent of what came off the boat will be lost in the water column. Who knows how much of it will end up in tiny fragments in some sea creature’s gut.
Meanwhile, here’s a few of Take3’s idea about dealing with what you find today and in coming days:
Respect your own safety, especially if you can’t really identify the item of rubbish.
Take everything you can off the beach and dispose of it safely.
Take a pic and tag Take3 so they can build a data pile. This helps in encouraging governments to keep acting on ocean-borne garbage. (The NSW Government bears primary responsibility for this cleanup.)