An interview with Errol Beere and Rick Bryant of Toxfree.
The Houtman Abrolhos (often referred to as the ‘Abrolhos Islands’) is a chain of 122 islands and associated coral reefs, in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia, about 80 kilometres west of Geraldton.
It is the southernmost true coral reef in the Indian Ocean and one of the world’s most important seabird breeding sites. It is also the centre of Western Australia’s largest single species fishery, the western rock lobster fishery. A group of retirees from Perth Friends of the Abrolhos (PFA) have been progressively recovering rubbish from the islands over several years.
This year Toxfree supported the clean-up with 12 volunteers as well as resources required for the clean-up and total removal of rubbish from 8 of the islands. The quantity of waste was 4.08 tonnes, and was contained in 407 Toxfree branded, biodegradable rubbish bags.
Where does all the rubbish come from?
EB: Us humans! The majority of the rubbish recovered during the clean-up was plastics which can cause harm to a variety of fauna i.e. turtles and birds due to entrapment or ingestion. Whilst there was a lot of fishing rope and floats found, the amount of plastic drink bottles and discarded oil drums was concerning considering the damage these items can cause to the environment. Many of the plastic bottles found were so brittle that they disintegrated when touched, which caused a mini environmental disaster of small bite sized pieces of plastic, and took a concerted effort to remove every fragment.
RB: It would appear that the bulk of the rubbish falls off, or is discarded from commercial and recreational boats, and it is assumed that with the current flows into the coral group, that the rubbish comes from a very wide area of the Indian Ocean.
Why did you, personally, decide to be part of the clean-up effort?
EB: Having been a part of many Toxfree emergency response tasks, I looked forward to performing a clean-up task on a bunch of islands basked in sunlight as opposed to a busy heavy traffic corner covered in ammonium nitrate at night. However, the PPE requirement was much the same! I’ve always enjoyed the teamwork and experience gained on clean-up tasks such as this. Not only was it a great opportunity for team building, but it is always a proud feeling when you’ve been a part of a volunteer effort giving back to the community and environment in which we are all a part of. Very rewarding!
RB: Having been involved with a client who has a significant focus on the environment, the opportunity to participate in a very personal way to clean up a virtually untouched part of the world, for the benefit of the environment, was a fantastic opportunity. I immediately saw the benefits of building a relationship with the client within an area which is important to their ethos. In addition; to foster a team building activity that binds the team with a personal common goal – that is to say that environmental issues are very topical and we have actually gone out and done something that makes a difference. We also took advantage of a unique opportunity to harness a follow up media story about the waste activity, with the hope to broaden the company’s brand.
What was the best part of the experience?
EB: Seeing the differing geology and landscapes between the islands as well as the local seal population. One island had a beach made entirely of bleached coral pieces, probably 2 metres deep and ten metres wide in some spots, which stretched for a couple of hundred metres. The locals also took interest in our work, with some team members being followed along the coast line by inquisitive seals.
RB: I am completely overwhelmed by the attitude and commitment that my team gave to this excursion. The team maintained a high professional demeanour throughout the activity and rewarded me daily with the commitment to the task at hand. The resulting bonds that were forged on this excursion will pay dividends well in to the future.
Were there any bad parts of the experience?
EB: There really weren’t any bad moments, but I guess the moment when a 3m bronze whaler shark showed up minutes after our Chevron Contract Manager had been for a brief swim around our boat was a little concerning at the time.
RB: Aside from seeing the shark only one metre from the boat, minutes after I had climbed out of the water; the ocean voyage from Geraldton to the islands and return was not the most fun…. Let’s just say I was thankful for the magic sea sick tablet!!
Was there any strange waste you didn’t expect to see?
EB: Intact light globes, the old style, and we found many of them! How a light globe stays intact after washing ashore across reef and onto beaches made predominantly of rock was a surprise to me. It made you think of how many didn’t make it.
RB: And not just intact globes… there were a small handful of intact fluoro tubes! We also plucked a couple of tyres, and a surprisingly large number of jandals!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
EB: The exposure Toxfree has gained from this initiative has been fantastic and it was a wonderful opportunity for all involved; the PFA, the boat crew, the Toxfree team, as well as the wider community.
RB: This entire activity was absolutely rewarding from beginning to end. I feel extremely privileged to have led this amazing team on an activity that presents multiple benefits across multiple areas, including the team, the client, Toxfree and the environment. I am extremely grateful to the team who also gave up their own time to work damn hard collecting small pieces of rubbish in a very isolated and uninhabitable, but beautiful, part of the world.