Cleaning up for good

A Perth beach clean up group is using their knowledge to help expand the collective mind of the community.

The Coastal Cleanup Crew is a beach clean up group working towards making both the marine environment and its community of volunteers more sustainable. The group has realised education is the goal, and cleaning up is just the beginning.

Daisy Kermode is the group’s creator. She loves the ocean. She doesn’t support commercial fishing. When ordering a coffee, she requests it in a mug instead of a disposable cup. She says she’s done all the lifestyle changes needed to help marine life.

Kermode was 14 years old when she realised she wanted to make a change in the world. She had been working the registers at Woolworths, where customer after customer would ask for their groceries in the single-use plastic bags available in WA at the time. She says she handed out hundreds of plastic bags every day she worked. It was the start of a chain of events leading the inception of the clean up group.

The Coastal Cleanup Crew after their Scarborough Beach clean up. Photo: Adam Kenna.

As she began to learn more about the environment and the impact plastics had on it, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She encouraged people to buy the green reusable bags, pleading with them as it was only an extra dollar. Eventually she quit her job, as she could not bear the burden of the danger she was helping cause to the marine environment. She said, “I couldn’t bear it. I felt like I was harming the turtles unintentionally through my hands.”

“I couldn’t bear it. I felt like I was harming the turtles unintentionally through my hands.”

Daisy Kemode

It was from this experience she started attending Sea Shepherd clean up events. While it was fulfilling, Kermode was inspired to do more, and with her friends she started her own group, which became the Coastal Cleanup Crew.

The plastic problem

Mark Hamann is an associate professor of marine biology at James Cook University. His research focuses on marine life, particularly on turtles. He says plastics are in all bodies of water. Water bodies only differ in that some are more polluted than others.

In Australia, according to the 2021 Plastics Plan, almost one-third of plastics used by Australians were single use. Hamann says it’s a big problem for marine life. The turtles he studies are more likely to eat plastic in the ocean when they are younger, between the ages of one and five.

Last year, a report published by the World Wildlife Fund estimated in Australia alone in 2018-19, 130,000 tonnes of plastic entered our marine environment. This is equivalent to five kilograms of plastic for each person.

This is not just a problem in Australia. The Elle McArthur Foundation in its 2017 report found plastics will outweigh fish by mass in 2050 if nothing changes.

“A lot of us in the group just felt so drained, and hopeless about our mission.”

Lukas Grӧne

Lukas Grӧne is the education officer for the Coastal Cleanup Crew. When asked about the clean ups, he was upfront and honest, and conceded they can be demoralising. “After doing it for the first year, a lot of us in the group just felt so drained, and hopeless about our mission.”

It comes down to a matter of being sustainable. Something the plastic in our ocean isn’t. Neither was the beach clean ups the group was doing at the time, according to Grӧne.

The nitty-gritty of cleaning

Clean ups for the Coastal Cleanup Crew had a similar process each time at any given beach. Everyone met at a predetermined location, where they greeted before an acknowledgement to country was given. There was a brief explanation of the procedure, and then everyone took a pair of gloves and a bag. The group was split in two and headed off in different directions to pick up any rubbish on the beach. After an hour, the group came back to the starting point, where the rubbish was piled up. Grӧne said for the larger beaches, they could fill 12 recycling bins with their haul.

It was then a matter of sorting and counting, with the data from each collection sent to Tangaroa Blue, an organisation striving towards the prevention of rubbish along the coastline. This process can take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on how much they had collected. The group does their best to recycle as much as they can, but for contaminated items, Grӧne said there was no point, simply because recycling facilities would not accept them.

The rubbish pile from the Coastal Clean Up Crew's clean of
One of many piles of rubbish the group sorts. Photo: Adam Kenna.

Community support to change

Kermode is grateful for the Perth community for the growth of the group. She acknowledges while Perth is small, it makes information easier to pass on. The group has attended Trigg’s Summer X Salt Markets where they were able to educate as well as clean. They have also partnered with WA social event Cold Nips to get people to clean the beach after their morning swim.

Kermode says the mindset change of people came with personal experience. She believes a behavioural change happens when people see the impact they are making. In her opinion, people are inspired by the acts the Coastal Cleanup Crew, as she feels people are more inclined to properly dispose of their rubbish by seeing people in the community do it.

Hamann still believes the data collection these kinds of groups participate in is valuable for researchers, and will help create change. However, he concedes it may be a while before significant changes occur.

For Grӧne, the clean ups are transitioning to a platform for education. For him, it provides an avenue to start conversations about sustainability. He says while clean ups help in the short term, they only prolong the danger for the future: “… it’s not a means to an end, it’s just an excuse to continue our behaviour.”

Grӧne hopes the group will be able to transition into providing different avenues of education. When the crew was invited to speak to an seniors group in Perth, Grӧne was given five minutes to talk about how waste impacts the marine environment. He was yet to get to the point in his discussion when he was directed off the stage.

But he smiled when the crowd of seniors demanded he continue, despite the threat of his speech cutting into their tea and biscuit time. Grӧne discovered people of all ages are open to change, they just need the right education.

Whether it’s through beach clean ups, community lectures, or going to schools to spread information, the Coastal Cleanup Crew hopes to continue the sustainability discussion.