Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign exceeds the million-dollar mark

In February 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a campaign dedicated to raising awareness and combatting the global catastrophe that is plastic pollution in our seas. Since then, over 1.2 million pieces of rubbish have been collected from Australia’s beaches and waterways. However, with eight million tonnes of plastic flowing into our oceans each year, we all need to ‘think globally, act locally’ to turn the tide.       

Since launching in early 2016, Sea Shepherd’s Marine Debris Campaign in Australia has gone from strength to strength, proving to the world that plastic pollution is a problem worth addressing for the greater good of our oceans and its inhabitants.“We are seeing our oceans choke at a catastrophic rate under the pressure of plastic pollution,” says Sea Shepherd’s National Co-ordinator for Marine Debris, Liza Dicks.

The Marine Debris Campaign takes direct action on plastic by physically removing dangerous debris from our coastlines and waterways. The campaign concentrates on facilitating change within our communities through education and involvement.

In the past two years, the Marine Debris Campaign has had some astounding feats. Over 1.23 million items have been collected from our shores and waterways, 80.2% of which was plastic. And its all thanks to countless passionate and dedicated people.

debris on a beach

Every state in Australia has a Marine Debris team and volunteers also make trips to remote locations such as the Cocos Keeling Islands off the coast of Western Australia.

Tireless coordinators have educated hundreds upon hundreds of children, reached tens of thousands of people online via social media and collected and recorded over one million items of debris.

It takes an army of compassionate and pro-active people to collect so much debris and the campaign is incredibly proud to have engaged over 10,000 locals from communities across the nation in beach clean-ups since launching in early 2016.

Liza says, “Our beach clean ups are a hands-on effort to help ease the pressure on our delicate native eco-systems.”

Hold on to Your Butt Coffs Coast Surfrider Foundation seagull

What we’ve been collecting – The Big, Bad Top 5

  1. Cigarette Butts and Filters

Cigarette butts contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, and while they are small, the several trillion estimated discarded cigarette butts around the world are having a toxic effect on our oceans. Did you know that it can take up to 25 years for one cigarette butt to break down? 

  1. Plastic Bits and Pieces (hard and solid)

Scientists estimate that in the coming years, 99% of the seabird population across the world will be impacted by hard plastic ingestion. Plastic does not break down – it breaks up into tiny items of plastic, often small enough to be considered micro-plastics.

  1. Plastic Film Remnants (bits of plastic bag, wrap etc.)

Soft plastic film remnants are light and small, making them easily missed by council workers, and readily picked up by wind or rain. Plastic film remnants can quickly find their way into the ocean and are often mistaken for jellyfish and ingested by turtles. We have also seen dolphins suffer with plastic bags covering their blow holes. Sadly, whales also ingest unfathomable amounts of plastic bag and plastic film remnants.

  1. Plastic Food Packaging (wrap / packets / containers)

We live in a disposable society where we would rather buy a quick meal in a plastic container than make and store one ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of packaging ends up on our beaches and shores rather than being disposed of.

  1. Paper and Cardboard Packaging

Found in almost every household, business, or shop, paper and cardboard packaging is produced at an astonishing rate and is extraordinarily detrimental to our forests.

What You Can Do

“We need to put the responsibility back on the plastic manufacturers and make them accountable for their wasteful plastic production,” says Liza.

“We can all make a difference by simply refusing single use plastic and opting for reusable alternatives. It can just be a small change like investing in a Keep Cup or taking your own reusable cutlery to a picnic that can make a difference. I like the saying ‘think globally, act locally’ because change starts with us. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.”

Seas Shepherd clean up volunteers

Along with reducing, reusing, remaking, resourcing and recycling, you can join your local Sea Shepherd Marine Debris team and offer them a hand. Beach clean-ups continue to grow each month with Sea Shepherd seeing a substantial number of volunteers join in to help keep Australia’s shorelines beautiful.

Clean-ups are free and family-friendly. Everyone dedicated to marine debris love seeing kids getting involved and becoming the change that our local communities and eco-systems need.

The toxic tide of plastic pollution is slowly beginning to turn but with eight million tonnes of plastic flowing into our oceans every year, the fight to keep our oceans plastic free continues.

Sea Shepherd and Marine Debris- The Facts and Stats

Totally number of items collected since February 2016 1,233,595
Percentage of collected items that were plastic 80.2%
Number of people involved in beach clean-ups since campaign launch 10,000
Total weight of items collected 22,126 kilograms
Number of bags full of debris 1,6000
Number of metres of beach covered by clean-up participants 77,736 metres
Number of cigarette butts collected 276,499
Number of hard, solid plastic bits and pieces collected 154,170
Number of plastic film remnants collected 148,038
Plastic food packaging items collected 122,640
Paper and Cardboard packaging collected 57,806

To donate or learn more about the campaign or to get involved in a beach clean-up, go to or find them on Facebook – Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign Australia or Instagram @seashepherdmarinedebristeam

Kimberley Bernard is Queensland’s Marine Debris Co-ordinator