Citizen scientists to reveal WA beach pollution hot-spots

A Citizen Science project being launched by the Conservation Council of Western Australia is set to reveal marine plastic pollution hotspots by engaging volunteers in studying the distribution of minute plastic particles around the Southwest coastline, from Geraldton to Esperance.

In a first for WA, the project will involve volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ around the southwest who will take hundreds of samples of beach sand. The samples will be analysed by UWA researcher Dr Harriet Paterson to reveal the true extent of plastic contamination in the marine environment.

The sampling will identify tiny fragments of plastic called micro-plastics which affect marine life on a global scale. The particles look like food to marine life, but when ingested can kill animals and deliver toxic chemicals to the animals tissue.

Micro-Plastic particles occur when plastic waste enters the ocean and waterways and breaks down into small particles over time. Microbeads from facewash and fibres washed off from synthetic clothing are also contributing to the problem.

The CCWA has initiated the Benchmarking the Accumulation of Micro-Plastics off South-Western Australia Project in partnership with UWA. The project is supported by funding from the WA Government’s State Natural Resource Management Program and the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council.

CCWA’s Micro-Plastics Coordinator Kate Born said “We have known about plastic pollution in our marine environment for years, but not the threat from micro-plastics and fibres. For the first time this project will engage the community in gathering reliable data to measure the extent of the problem right here in Southwest WA.”

“We’re trying to determine if there are hotspots for micro-plastics along the West Australian coast,” says Dr Harriet Paterson, researcher from UWA. “Is the source of the plastic from local populations, or from oceanographic processes bringing global plastic to our shores?”

Dr Paterson, accompanied by CCWA Science and Policy Coordinator Dr Nic Dunlop, Micro-Plastics Coordinator Kate Born, local conservation groups and volunteers, is planning to sample West Australian beaches from Geraldton to Esperance.

Micro-Plastics are being eaten by zoo-plankton, near the bottom of the food chain. If the chemicals associated with these particles can be transferred through food chains, then people eating seafood could also be exposed. Micro-Plastic particles may contain a range of hormone interfering compounds, as well as heavy metals.

“By analysing the beach samples, we will understand the distribution of micro-plastics on our coastline,” Dr Paterson said, “this will enable managers to make better informed management decisions.” 

CoastCare and community groups will start sand sampling the beaches from the 1st September 2016. Southwest communities are invited to take part in this project, for more information contact Kate Born on 0458 204 844, or email


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