Official clean-up of Warrambool nurdles likely to last months

Taking action: Warrnambool nurdle spill incident controller Tim Gazzard (second from right) talks to his team about the emergency in the control room. Picture: Rob Gunstone
Taking action: Warrnambool nurdle spill incident controller Tim Gazzard (second from right) talks to his team about the emergency in the control room. Picture: Rob Gunstone

An official state government clean-up of a spill of more than a million nurdles, or plastic pellets, onto south-west beaches is set to last at least another month.

A multi-agency team of 24 was set up on November 30 to coordinate clean-up efforts and provide daily updates after the nurdles made it through the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant and into the ocean.

Incident controller Tim Gazzard said it was likely the team would continue operating a clean-up out of Warrnambool for at least another month.

“If we continue to do what we do now, which is going out and cleaning up every day in the hot spots, it could be three or four weeks, it could be two months or it could be longer,” he said.

“There’s a broader engagement that will probably go beyond the two months and well into next year.”

Mr Gazzard said the incident was unfamiliar to authorities.

“As far as we know this is the only nurdle incident we have had in Australia,” he said.

“Compared to something like a fire, which we deal with quite regularly, a lot of those protocols or standards of how we operate and what is the right level of response, a lot of that is established for something like a fire. Whereas for this incident, we’ve really had to start from quite a low base of understanding of one, how to go about the clean-up, and two, what’s the right way to monitor things.”

The team is providing daily updates about the incident, which has been declared an emergency.

Early in the week, emergency management team members surveyed a 30-kilometre stretch of coastline between East Beach in Port Fairy and Logans Beach in Warrnambool, identifying the most heavily-affected areas.

“It allows us to then target what we’re going to clean up the next day,” Mr Gazzard said.

Members of the public have also reported finding nurdles at Childers Cove, which the team is investigating.

Water corporation Wannon Water and the Environment Protection Agency have been investigating the incident, but have not provided further information on the source of the nurdles.

The Good Will Nurdle Hunting Facebook page is being used to coordinate volunteer clean-up efforts, which continue to play a crucial role.