NT shores in danger of getting swamped by sea of trash

At the shores of a luxury retreat on the edge of East Arnhem Land, you can find that the waves aren't the only thing crashing on the shores--tons of plastic waste also, causing the number of visitors and tourists to drop.

NT is facing a crisis of plastic trash washing upon its once pristine beaches, forcing businesses and communities near the water to do everything they can to limit the environmental and economic impact.

However, the tides of trash seem endless, threatening NT residents.

"It is getting worse — it's overwhelming to the point where you feel 'what can we do? How can we deal with this?'," Helen Martin, co-owner of Banubanu Wilderness Retreat, said.

"The rubbish that we've got on our eastern beach now is just huge. It's a mountain of rubbish and you think you might clean it up today, but tomorrow it will be back."

A Story of Opportunity and Desperation

Despite this, Trevor Hosie and Helen Martin are investing $1 million to build a new venture on a protected and pristine bay on Bremer Island. This includes a 30-person resto-bar an overlooking view and accommodations with a plunge pool. Just a few metres from them, an unpleasant collage of multicoloured plastic trash is washing ashore.

"It's sad to see such a remote area like this with so much rubbish on the beach," said Mr Hosie. "As far as tourism goes it's a bit of a turn-off for people. But the biggest threat is to sea life, because it's all been breaking down into tiny little bits of plastic and all the turtles, the fish, everything eats it.

The owners have been considering ramping up their efforts to promote "volun-tourism" where environmentally-concerned travellers could stay on the island to assist in cleaning-up the tonnes of waste.

An International Crisis

When discerned closely, the labels on these wastes is written in Bahasa Indonesia, the official Indonesian language. From Bremer Island, the nearest point of the South-East Asian nation is just 500-odd kilometres away.

Indonesia is one of the world's worst contributors to ocean plastics, second only to China.

"You've got this huge population base that lives north of us and throws all their rubbish into storm drains," said Mr Hosie. "You get a wet season and all that rubbish gets washed into the ocean.

The NT's Indonesian consul Dicky Soerjanatamihardja said action was underway to educate residents on both sides of the Arafura Sea over the issue.

"It is a process that takes some time to do," he said. "And of course government already has the responsibility for this."

Mr Soerjanatamihardja made his inaugural visit to the East Arnhem town of Nhulunbuy late last year, but did not have a chance to see for himself the rubbish-filled beaches--which he plans to visit next month.

"My plan is sometime in July … to [visit] the spots that [are] affected by the plastic waste, to see and get direct information from the situation.

The inundation of plastics into East Arnhem is also starting to have disastrous impact on the region's sea turtle population. Luke Playford, the sea country facilitator of East Arnhem Land's Dhimurru rangers, recently told the ABC that rangers were discovering some distressing signs as they scoured the beaches.

"One disturbing thing we notice on a lot of the domestic products — particularly like shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes — is bite marks. So, marine animals — fish, turtles — they're all biting at this plastic, thinking that it's a food source, and they're ingesting it."

Hundreds of turtles are born on Bremer each year, and recently, nesting turtles were having to circumnavigate the piles of plastic in order for them to give birth, according to Ms Martin.

Ms Martin said after 16 years on Bremer Island, toiling with Mr Hosie to build and maintain their windswept retreat, they're bracing that this trash could now be the new normal.

"It's a reality check, really. To see something so beautiful, at the northern tip of Bremer Island … [hit by] all this rubbish," she said.


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