Terang students are among those who answered a call for help cleaning up thousands of plastic beads, or nurdles, littering south-west beaches after making it through the sewage system.
On Friday morning, grade six Terang College students travelled by bus to Warrnambool’s Shelly Beach with buckets and sieves to lend a hand, with Merrivale Primary School students doing the same on Thursday and Friday.
The nurdles came to light on Tuesday, and the incident is being investigated by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Wannon Water.
Some staff from organisations including Wannon Water, Moyne Shire Council and Warrnambool City Council have helped out, but most of the painstaking clean-up of the tiny plastic pieces has been done by community members volunteering their time.
On Thursday the volunteers reported they had collected 283,350 nurdles from Shelly Beach, which is about 7.3 kilograms of plastic.
Warrnambool’s Colleen Hughson, who has been coordinating volunteer efforts, said it was wonderful to have community members turning up to help after seeing information on social media.
“As the week’s gone by, people might be under the impression that the nurdle plastic pollution is under control, but it actually isn’t,” she said.
“We just need more people down here and more people aware of just how serious this is. It’s actually an environmental disaster.
“The community are expecting the authorities to do something about it. Well, they’re not, so it’s up to us.
“If we’re waiting around for the authorities to do something, well that might take two weeks, a month, who knows? And by then the nurdles are half-way to New Zealand.”
She urged people to help out.
A group of Deakin University, Warrnambool, researchers led by associate professor Julie Mondon will analyse the nurdles, separating them and testing for contaminants.
The associate professor said nurdles were washing up on beaches all over the world.
“Unfortunately Warrnambool now has experienced one such event,” she said.