Thanks for supporting all of the Trash Bash beach cleanups of 2019! On the morning of 30 November, the Two Oceans Aquarium team, the Beach Co-op and a large group of volunteers, some coming from as far as the UK, met at Sunset Beach near Milnerton, for the final Trash Bash of the year.
This Trash Bash was special - it had been a year since we'd held a cleanup at Sunset Beach and we were interested to see how much trash had accumulated in that time. Sunset Beach is a beach that looks superficially clean, but upon closer inspection is actually littered with small fragments of microplastic, transparent drinking straws and hardy lollipop sticks - plastic items that survive being battered by the beach's strong waves.
The weather was just perfect for the final Trash Bash, and the group set off to scour the beach for plastic debris. More than 100 volunteers arrived - showing just what great an impact a small group of people can have in just two hours (and have plenty of family fun in the process)!
What can Sunset Beach tell us about the science of plastic pollution?
Part of Trash Bash's purpose is to collect data about the prevalence and distribution of the twelve most common beach litter items on the Cape's coast, namely the "Dirty Dozen". This data supports the research of Prof. Peter Ryan, an ornithologist at UCT's FitzPatrick Institute with a special interest in the distribution of marine debris and its impact on seabirds.
Sunset Beach is quite far from Cape Town's worst sources of oceanic plastic pollution, such as the harbour and the Black River mouth. It is also a beach that gets battered by high energy waves - as one can see from the abundance of rounded pebbles covering the beach. For this reason, Sunset Beach is an interesting area to study how plastic moves about in the environment, compared to a beach like Lagoon Beach, which regularly gets littered with large, uneroded pieces of debris from the nearby river mouths. It's an interesting example of part of the oceanic system that doesn't receive much attention when studying marine debris, where much of the emphasis is on sources and the oceanic gyres.
Despite Sunset Beach typically being littered with only very small pieces of plastic, volunteers still managed to collect an incredible 43kg of plastic pollution! Looking at which types of plastic items were most numerous, we see that 2019's top three items are the same culprits that topped the Dirty Dozen list from Sunset Beach in 2018:
- Lollipop sticks - 1 090 found
- Earbuds - 705 found
- Individual sweet wrappers - 615 found
Those top two items - lollipop sticks and earbuds might surprise you, but we must remember that plastic items consumed in our homes and away from the coastline will end up in the ocean if they enter our stormwater drains or wastewater system - it's all connected to the sea. Sunset Beach is not unique in having a high abundance of these items, it's just that these items are more durable in the environment, so survive intact - other common waste items like plastic bags break down to microplastic too small to be seen quite quickly, although they still impact the environment.
Trash Bash 2020 - bigger, better, bashier
With the suggestions taken from members of the public this past year, we're taking Trash Bash to a host of new beaches in 2020. We'll announce these locations soon, but in the meantime, you can diarise the dates:
- 1 February 2020 (for World Wetlands Day)
- 21 March 2020 (for World Water Day)
- 23 May 2020 (for World Turtle Day)
- 18 July 2020 (for Mandela Day)
- 19 September 2020 (for World Cleanup Day)
- 28 November 2020