Ocean Crusaders visit to St Helena Island found more than we were bargaining for. Luckily we had 172 eager volunteers to help us out.
St Helena Island is a heritage listed island due to the historical ruins of the former penal colony. It means a lot of the island is restricted access and hence the old theory of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ seemed to be happening. In the areas not frequented by people lay so much rubbish it took all 172 volunteers to remove the majority of it. Originally planned for November last year, we delayed the event to ensure organisation was done properly and permits were in place. It also gave us a chance to work closer with island Senior Ranger Roland who was instrumental in making the event happen. This was also the final event in our Energex funded three island clean that had previously seen neighboring islands Mud and Green Island cleaned.
On the Saturday we headed to the island with a team of 6 to clean the northern end where the land is privately leased. Public access to this area was not allowed however the owner allowed us in. We also had in tow world renowned sailor Stacey Jackson who headed up an all professional female sailing team in the last Sydney to Hobart. Through her sponsorship with 11th Hour Racing they have organised a grant for us and we were out to shoot some footage for a soon to be released video. The day was hot, especially when you headed deep into the mangroves, and the natives where very friendly. I have never seen 12 mosquitoes on one hand before!!! However the crew got stuck in and the pile quickly built. We even found a huge yellow navigation buoy which belongs to parks, so that will be put back into action in the future. The other reason for the Saturday clean was to gain a sample of the debris for our audit which would be conducted on the mainland on the Sunday. The audit allows us to know what it is we are picking up and where it is coming from.
Sunday morning arrived and it was peak hour at William Gunn jetty as both the Moreton Bay Environmental Education vessel Inspiration and Cat’O’Nine Tails loaded up and headed to the island. The unique part of this clean is that we offered a brief tour of the ruins in addition to the clean up. We split the group into 6 smaller groups, each with a supervisor so they could head to different parts of the island either before or after their tour. Everything went so smoothly and the piles of rubbish kept coming back. Bag after bag, tyre after tyre, the pile built. Back in the park and local MP Joan Pease greeted the volunteers to thank them for their efforts. Joan actually supported this clean up financially, not just in person which is amazing for our charity. The best part of the day once again was the volume of young children. It is always so satisfying when the youngsters are so excited about cleaning up. The future really does look bright.
Back at the audit and the statistics were rolling in. A few disturbing trends were appearing that is very different to other islands we have been to in the near vicinity. The number of polystyrene floats was staggering. In fact eventually there would be 451 of them from the 2 days. We found 3 large foam barrels which I believe would come from old moorings where the rust has removed the metal surrounds and the number of tyres on the island (26 removed, many more still over there) is just weird.
On the Monday morning we were joined by State Greens Candidate Ken Austin and his partner Wendy who volunteers with Wynnum Manly Boomerang Bags to go back to the island and collect the debris. Many hands make light work and with all 5 of us we managed to load up quickly at high tide and get back before the wind built. In fact we had been told of a broken pontoon that had been languishing in the mangroves just south of RQYS for months so we went and checked it out. We managed to slide it up onto Salter’s bow door and retrieve it, saving millions of small polystyrene balls escaping in the future.
After the full audit, we can tell you that included in the 1,853kg of debris we removed in 92 bags, there were:
- 1350 plastic bottles
- 971 pieces of Polystyrene
- 139 shoes
- 209 thongs
- 189 glass bottles
- over 9000 pieces of broken glass (Thank you for picking this all up as this is time consuming)
- 4620 pieces of hard plastic
- 26 tyres
- 476 plastic lids
- 139 aluminium cans
- 139 metal tins under 4 liters.
Missing from the usual suspects was plastic bags with us only retrieving 33. This shows that the new plastic bag ban is working. The ones we did find were quite old. We found no new bags at all. Some of the glass bottles we found were very old. They were from the original container deposit scheme where you got a refund for returning your glass bottles. I reckon these were phased out in the 80’s and the old ring pull aluminium cans were found as well.
The majority of the debris is now either being recycled or is in landfill which is far better than out in the environment and that means a safer environment for our wildlife. That is why we do this. These places aren’t where people go, we clean for the turtles, the dugongs, the birdlife and it seems for the mosquitoes too.
Just remember that if you buy it, it has the potential to escape into the environment. Just because you do the right thing and put it in the bin, doesn’t mean that it won’t end up on these islands. We have just seen massive destruction from floods in Townsville and tonnes of debris washing out that wouldn’t normally. This weekend we have some wild weather coming to Brisbane and lots will be washed out. It is best to REFUSE plastic before we even consider REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE. It’s the only way to put a stop to this thing called single use plastic.
Thanks again to all our amazing volunteers. Without you we are nothing. We would still be out there cleaning. We achieved a great deal in a small time frame and that means we can now head to our next event and clean up new places.