Cleaning up the Cove
Author: Billy Pringle
A group of volunteers is recovering hundreds of drinking straws from Manly Cove to raise awareness of single-use plastic pollution.
After a colleague found more than 600 straws during two short snorkels in the Cove, diving instructor Harriet Spark has invited volunteers to take part in a new underwater clean-up project dubbed 'Operation Straw'.
The cylindrical shape of straws gives them a rigidity and strength that belies their small size. As a result, they are mistaken for food by marine animals and can also cause internal injury and suffocation to creatures that ingest them.
Ms Spark, who is also involved in the local environmental group Sustainable Organisations of Manly (SO Manly), is encouraging participants to collect straws and record their colour to give an indication of where they have come from.
"One of the big offenders is the McDonald's straws; we find a lot of them" Ms Spark said.
"The data is the most important part of it because if we continue to clean the beaches and don't record what we find, it's hard to drive change. But if we record what we find, we can make a big difference" she said.
'Operation straw' has already collected more than 1,200 straws from the Cove - enough to stretch the length of three Olympic swimming pools - and will continue to hold weekly STRAWkle sessions on Saturdays until the end of February.
"The majority of the discarded straws originated from nearby, but could also be washing in from the greater Sydney Harbour area" Ms Spark said.
While Manly has a good history of clean-up projects, plastic pollution remains a serious issue.
Richard Nicholls has run a diving shop in the area for 25 years and has partnered with volunteers to reduce plastic waste in the cove.
Despite having a close involvement in underwater clean-up initiatives throughout his career, Mr Nicholls has seen little reduction in levels of plastic pollution.
"We pretty much get 1000 Kilograms a year from one spot in Manly Cove" he said.
"It's sad in a way. We always hoped that the amount would drop and for a while we thought it was dropping, but all that was happening was that we were getting more efficient at picking up rubbish from that spot. So we just widened our search area a little bit and basically produced the same results."
After years of witnessing the pollution up close, Mr Nicholls urged all plastic users including manufacturers, businesses and consumers to do their part for the environment.
"The most important thing is try and reduce the amount of plastic waste full-stop."
While clean-up efforts are crucial, it is important to go beyond treating symptoms, which is why projects like 'Operation Straw' are increasingly focused on behaviour change.
Ms Spark plans to use the data from the project to encourage businesses to think about the way they dispense straws, or even to eliminate their use completely.
"Even just putting straws behind the counter and having some signage explaining 'we only give out straws when asked' - that reduces straws hugely" she said.
"Just making a few changes can make a big impact".
- If you live around Manly, register to join in on ‘Operation Straw’s weekly ‘STRAWkle sessions’ every Saturday until the end of February, or get involved as a business
- Avoid taking straws where possible, and ask hospitality staff to serve your drink without a straw
- When you visit the beach or local waterways, Take3 for the sea
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