Hundreds of illegally dumped foreign bottles, thrown overboard at sea, are washing onto south-west shores, with a Warrnambool resident calling on shipping companies to clean up their act.
Warrnambool environmental warrior Colleen Hughson is appealing to south-west residents to help collect and log any foreign bottles they find. She has launched a new campaign, Bottles Overboard, to track the rubbish.
She said local beachcombers were regularly finding foreign water bottles, tetra packs, food packaging and containers and were building an online resource to help others to collate data and raise awareness about the growing problem.
Ms Hughson said passing international ships routinely discarded rubbish in south-west waters and it was becoming worse due to an increase in single-use bottles due to COVID-19, high port rubbish disposal fees and a lack of recourse for offenders.
She said it was an "ongoing and increasing issue" and what was washing in was "just the tip of the iceberg".
"There's 375 brands of different bottles that we've so far been able to identify which is pretty crazy," Ms Hughson said. "We're collecting a lot more bottles from Asia. The count is over 1500 compared to Australian-branded sold bottles which is 267. It's pretty telling."
She said bottles were likely to have been dumped at sea prior to berthing at Melbourne or Portland and they were washing up at remote south-west locations where Beach Patrol 3280-3284 volunteers conducted regular clean-ups.
"It's quite obvious these international ships are disposing of rubbish at sea which is completely illegal."
More than 200 foreign bottles were collected during a beach walk to Portland in January.
"We collect between five and 10 bottles every single week," she said.
"We're collecting more foreign stuff off ships than locally littered stuff on the beaches. For whatever reason there's been a massive increase."
Over the past six months, Ms Hughson and other Beach Patrol volunteers have counted and collected information about the bottles to try and identify the ships and countries they were coming from.
She said while most marine debris couldn't be linked back to its origins, bottles and lids often had identifying labels, bar codes, dates and branding which could tell a lot about the source.
She launched the the Bottles Overboard campaign this week, which includes Facebook and Instagram pages. Ms Hughson hopes it will become a resource for Australian and international beach combers with the page already attracting interest from Brazil.
The page includes an album of photos with its origin and identifying features. The group invites beachcombers from across the globe to discuss, share information, photos ad videos and research on international shipping debris.
She invited local beach walkers to become 'citizen scientists' and to help trace the bottle's origins. Anyone who finds a bottle on a beach can share and tag their photo #bottlesoverboard.
"We understand a lot of people would be finding this stuff and taking it home and putting it in their bin," she said.
"We're trying to encourage people to take a photo and put it on social media.
"We're trying to connect with beachcombers across Australia, but also across the world because we know it's a global problem.
"We're seeing the same bottles wash up on the shore in England as they are in Australia and they're coming from China so they don't belong in either place."
She hopes to be able to identify the shipping companies responsible and to determine if it's an industry-wide problem or certain offenders.
"The shipping industry and companies are polluting and littering as an industry," Ms Hughson said. "They need to clean up their act because it's not just one or two ships doing it, it's many ships. We get bottles from so many different countries and so many different types of bottles."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Now just one tap with our new app: Digital subscribers now have the convenience of faster news, right at your fingertips with The Standard:
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.