The shock in finding the Port’s usually pristine beaches awash with debris from shipping containers lost overboard on the weekend has fuelled residents to take action.
Before an official clean-up had been coordinated, volunteers had already collected dozens of bags of plastic cups, containers, car parts, food and drink products which, after being swept off a cargo ship due to high seas on Friday, quickly began washing up onto beaches at Anna Bay, Fingal Bay and Shoal Bay.
“I came down to [Fingal] beach on Saturday and I was shocked by what I saw,” Fingal Bay resident Pamela Smith said.
“Looking at all the rubbish from the containers washed up on the beach – I didn’t want to wait. I started picking them up straight away.
“There’s been a few naysayers, talking about safety and waiting for something official. But we just want to clean up our beautiful beaches.”
Eighty-three shipping containers went overboard from the YM Efficiency – a Libyan-registered container ship that had been on its way from Taiwan to Port Botany – about 30km off the Central Coast.
Everything from plastic, nappies and toilet-paper packaging, to thousands of food wrappers and clocks have washed up on beaches along the coast.
Debris has littered Jimmys Beach at Tea Gardens Hawks Nest, Rocky Point near Anna Bay, Fingal Head including Boulder Bay, and Shoal Bay.
Ms Smith spent the weekend and Monday collecting items from Fingal Beach. Among them were hundreds of plastic cups, empty beauty product containers, food products and unopened beverages, plus plastic parts for cars and motorbikes.
Soldiers Point resident Adam Andrews joined Ms Smith at Fingal Bay on Monday to clean up the rocks off Barry Park.
“I filled four big bags full of cups in five minutes,” Mr Andrews said.
Nelson Bay resident Prue Bamford, a wildlife rescuer through WINK, turned out to help clean up at Fingal Beach on Monday.
Ms Bamford said her desire to help was driven by concern about the marine life.
“I don’t want the turtles, whales and dolphins eating any of the plastic that has gone overboard,” she said.
“I want to pick it up, I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to see turtles have to go into care because they ingested a heap of plastic.”
Tim Meharg, chairman of the Shoal Bay Community Association, said visitors from Spain, Tasmania, Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle joined local volunteers at Zenith Beach on Saturday to collect plastic jars, food packets, clocks and other assorted debris.
“I daresay more will be washed up,” Mr Meharg said.
“We couldn’t wait for an official clean-up because a lot of this stuff could finish up in the gullet of fish mistaking it for food.
“The more collected earlier the better.”
The rubbish was placed in plastic bags, carried to the car park and stacked near a council bin for collection.
More containers had washed up onto the beach on Monday.
Chairman of the Marine Parks Association, Frank Future, echoed Mr Meharg’s sentiment on Monday.
He said the community could not wait for the ship’s operator to deal with the recovery and removal of the lost cargo.
“These things take an enormous amount of time and by then it might be months, even years,” he said.
“It will be the community who will rally to clean it up.”
While residents started their own clean-up efforts on the weekend, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) stepped in on Monday to announce it would lead the recovery efforts.
“The NSW Environment Protection Authority will work with AMSA, RMS and the local councils to ensure clean-up of all material occurs,” NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said.
“AMSA has engaged contractors to recover the containers, their contents and clean up any waste material washed ashore.”
AMSA will then seek to recover costs of clean-up from the ship owner.
Port Stephens Council has thanked the community for getting in and cleaning up their local beaches in the wake of the environmental disaster.
“We want to thank all of the volunteers who have cleaned up rubbish on our beaches,” a council statement said.
“We now ask the public to not put themselves at risk - stay clear of any debris and containers, and instead report to NSW Maritime.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and clean up rubbish as needed.”
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