Hinchinbrook Island beach clean-up

Hinchinbrook Island lies just off the coast between Ingham and Cardwell. It’s a National Park, with strict limits on camping and (usually) a waiting list of walkers wanting to hike the Thorsborne Trail. Its inner (western) coast is a shallow mangrove-fringed channel, while its outer (eastern) coast is spectacularly beautiful, with rugged mountains rising behind a series of sandy beaches. Those beaches, sadly, accumulate as much marine debris as our mainland beaches.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is a relatively new environmental NGO, an “Australia-wide not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris,” as their website says. They keep themselves busy: their events page lists, for example, 19 days of beach clean-ups in October alone.

Four of those days were dedicated to Ramsay Bay on the outer northern coast of Hinchinbrook Island. A dozen of their volunteers camped on nearby Goold Island and worked all four days, Thursday-Sunday. The rest of us (I was lucky enough to join them for the Sunday) were day-trippers, meeting the boat at the Cardwell jetty at 7 a.m. and returning there in the middle of the afternoon, on Saturday, Sunday, or both. We were a mixed bunch (which I think is a Good Thing) with a lot of people in their 20s, a few teenagers, and the rest ranging up to their 70s for a total of about 25 friendly, positive people on the Sunday.

The boat took us through the mangroves to the pontoon and walkway and we carried our gear over the narrow isthmus (see map) to Ramsay Bay. The weather was gorgeous and so was the scenery.

ramsay bay beach
Planning meeting, Ramsay Bay. The dot at centre right is indeed a person.

beach-cleaning
Beachcombers in action, each with a rubbish bag; Mt Bowen in the background

Results

We worked on the long middle section of the bay and, as you can see, there wasn’t much debris on the beach itself. There was much more trapped behind the first low dune front. Quite a variety, too: glass and plastic bottles, of course; styrofoam boxes, a gas bottle, scraps of plastic rope, thongs, poly pipe; and far more tiny scraps of sun-rotted plastic than we would have liked.

bottle with barnacles
Bottle with barnacles, newly washed up on the beach

Our bags were tallied and weighed at the end of our collecting: about 130 kg. We felt good about that but the Saturday team, working at the northern end of the bay, had collected ten times as much. That wasn’t because we were lazy but because most of the rubbish drifting up or down the bay gets trapped in the hook at the end. (I helped on a similar clean-up, with Reef HQ Aquarium volunteers, 15 years ago and we found the same thing.)

ramsay bay beach
Lunch on the beach

Saturday’s rubbish was taken off the beach by boat by National Parks staff but they couldn’t help on the Sunday so we had to carry ours back to the pontoon.

This sort of clean-up operation is core business for Tangaroa Blue and they are very good at the logistics. Everyone went very smoothly – sign-ons, briefings, supplies of bags and gloves, boats in the right place at the right times, packed lunches, etc – and that made the whole day so much easier and more enjoyable for the volunteers. As I said when promoting the event on the Green Drinks Townsville facebook page, we were “doing good in Paradise” and that’s hard to beat.

Opportunities like this one do come up quite regularly now (although Hinchinbrook will always be a bit special) so look out for one you can join.

mangrove channel
Heading home through the mangroves

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