OCCI Port Stephens introduces microplastic filtration system to clean up beaches

A group of hardworking volunteers has begun to target microplastics on Port Stephens beaches where the pollution threatens various forms of marine life.

The pieces of plastic, at times difficult to detect with the naked eye, have in parts of the world been tied to the death of fish that become "full" on it.

"It fills up their stomach to the point where they always feel full and they don't feel like eating so they starve to death," Ocean and Coastal Care Initiatives Port Stephens vice president Keith Green said.

OCCI volunteers have this year begun to use a device to collect these microplastics.

DEDICATION: Ocean and Coastal Care Initiatives Port Stephens vice president Keith Green with a sample of microplastics collected on Australia Day and a cleaner example from Birubi Beach. Picture: Sam Norris

DEDICATION: Ocean and Coastal Care Initiatives Port Stephens vice president Keith Green with a sample of microplastics collected on Australia Day and a cleaner example from Birubi Beach. Picture: Sam Norris

The microplastic filtration system was purchased from the United States and cost $380 delivered to Port Stephens.

At a glance it looks like a battlefield stretcher. Instead of canvas strung between two poles it has statically-charged mesh that is able to filter out pieces of plastic as small as a grain of sand.

OCCI has begun to use it at various Port Stephens beaches after a successful trial at Boat Harbour on Australia Day. Mr Green said the contaminants became readily visible when added to a jar containing water.

Studies have shown that marine plastics contain two types of chemicals: additive-derived chemicals and hydrophobic chemicals which are absorbed from the surrounding seawater.

OCCI was advised that if they collected these plastics from the beach that the debris should be placed in sealed plastic bags and not left in hot places.

"There's stories of these plastics giving off toxic gases in enclosed spaces like cars," Mr Green said.

"These plastics are really nasty stuff."

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OCCI will deploy the device at various beaches but Brooms Beach in particular with its high concentrations of plastic.

The materials tend to accumulate along the high tide line. Here, volunteers can shovel the top layer of sand onto the sieve to retrieve the microplastics.

"It takes a minimum of two people to physically lift and sift the sand with this device," Mr Green said.

"We're prepared to loan it to other groups and based on the response we might buy more of them."

OCCI was established in Port Stephens a decade ago. Every piece of plastic and rubbish it collects is registered on the Taraonga Blue website - with 10 million pieces of plastic counted nationally on its database.

OCCI doesn't just collect rubbish, it helps prevent it from entering the water. It's TAngler bins have been placed at popular fishing spots, particularly on jetties, in recent years.

"In three and a half years our TAngler bins collected enough fishing line to stretch from here to Wollongong or Tamworth," Mr Green said.

"That's 280 kilometres of fishing line that didn't go into the water."

People who wish to be involved are urged to take part in one of OCCI's regular accreditation sessions.

For more information on the courses or OCCI in general contact Keith Green on kpgreen@iprimus.com.au or 0435 240 959. Alternatively contact  president Jeannie Lawson on harvis@ozemail.com.au or  0414 414 291. 

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