Sick or dead wildlife found on south-west beaches and the spill of more than a million plastic pellets could be linked, the state’s environment watchdog says.
Environment Protection Authority (EPA) south west region acting manager Carl Gray said the organisation was concerned about the impact the pellets, known as nurdles, will have on animals in the marine environment.
Mr Gray said the EPA was “encouraging community members to report the location, species and condition of any sick or freshly dead wildlife found on the beach” to the multi-agency emergency team coordinating the response to the November spill.
So far a volunteer-led clean-up has resulted in more than a million nurdles being picked up from a 26-kilometre stretch of the coast, with pellets originally discharged from the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant near Shelly Beach.
Early tests showed a dead dolphin that washed up on Port Fairy’s East Beach was not linked to nurdle consumption, the team said in a statement.
Incident controller Tim Gazzard said autopsies were being conducted on a couple of birds that had been found on affected beaches.
Associate Professor Julie Mondon, who is leading a Deakin University study into the nurdles, has said after 15 billion nurdles were spilled in Hong Kong in 2012, dead sea birds and fish washed up with the pellets.
Trish Corbett, part of the team, has explained how marine animals ingesting nurdles can cause them to starve to death.
“They look like little fish eggs so they can be ingested by all kinds of marine animals and end up continuing in the food chain and cause massive problems,” she said.
“Different marine animals end up ingesting plastics and then they can get to the point where they can’t actually continue feeding –their stomachs are full of plastics – and then they don’t get the nutrition and they actually get malnourished and can die from starvation.”
The clean-up is still being coordinated through the Good Will Nurdle Hunting Facebook page.