Heartbreaking photo reveals sad trend that poses huge risk to wildlife: 'Mind boggling'

An Aussie woman said she once collected 1700 straws at just one beach and had found 500 children's sand toys left behind by families.

Suzanne Casement standing among rubbish on the beach (left) and a seadragon tangled in a facemask (right).
Suzanne Casement has been collecting rubbish from years, she is still shocked every day. She was particularly heartbroken to find this seadragon tangled in a face mask. Source: Supplied/Suzanne Casement

A heartbreaking photo has reinforced the devastating impact our "throwaway society" has on marine life, as one Aussie woman said she’d picked up 500 plastic sand toys at the beach and once collected 17 bags of rubbish on just one day. Suzanne Casement who collected rubbish on one of the nation's best known beaches every day says she's seen some confronting scenes, once finding a weedy seadragon tangled in a facemask.

Casement, from Coogee in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, said she had been voluntarily collecting rubbish from the beach during daily walks for eight years and was shocked at the things people left behind and the dangers they posed to birds, turtles, fish and other marine life.

The 57-year-old said she had also once found a dead wobbegong with a cigarette burn in its head and many other thoughtless human acts that wreak havoc on our native wildlife and environment.

“I've seen people come down to the beach with a cheese platter and wine and leave everything behind, the board, the glasses,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“A lot of people have parties, engagements, birthdays on the beach and just leave their balloons. They put them in the bin but they don't take the air out and they don't untie them, so they just blow away and can cause serious damage to wildlife. Or one balloon might escape and it gets tangled up and taken out to the ocean.”

Casement's collection of plastic sand toys.
Casement says she has collected 500 sand toys from her local beach which have been left there by families. Source: Supplied

She said people needed to learn the “right thing to do”, which included deflating balloons and disposing of them properly to prevent them being broken down into microplastics and ingested by animals.

“We have such a throwaway society, people just leave their things when they're finished with them. It's unbelievable,” Casement told Yahoo. “One time I got 14 pairs of sunglasses from the water. You name it, I've seen it coming out of the ocean.

“People leave rubbish on the shore and it gets carried out to sea and then comes back in and it hurts wildlife. I've found seadragons with face masks wrapped around them, turtles with rubbish all around them, hooks and fishing lines caught on seagulls. It's heartbreaking to see when wildlife is injured.”

“It's very frustrating that other people don't want to pick up rubbish like I do, people just ignore it. You see a lot of people coming down to Coogee beach for sunrise, sitting there having a chat, they see the rubbish, but think 'it isn't mine' and just leave it.”

Plastic rubbish in water (left) and on the beach (right).
Plastic causes huge damage to our environment, birds, fish and marine life. Source: Supplied

She said Airport Beach in Sydney was "pummelled by rubbish" after it travelled down the Cooks River and was particularly bad following storms, leaving cigarette butts, syringes, rubbish and plastic strewn everywhere.

Astonishingly, she had found Mars Bar wrappers that she was able to date back to 1981 and drink containers with Fred Flintstone characters on them that the 57-year-old remembers from her childhood.

"It's heartbreaking," she said. "I once found 1700 straws in one day. It was like a graveyard with them all sticking up in the sand."

Casement said she wanted to raise awareness about the "mind-boggling" amount of junk that was left on Australian beaches, including items such as towels, sunnies, and umbrellas.

Plastics expert Kate Noble, from WWF Australia, said plastic pollution had reached “crisis levels and was still growing”.

“Most of the plastic ever produced still exists today – either buried, in open dumps, or worse, in our environment, where it doesn't degrade but breaks up into microplastics,” she told Yahoo News. “Microplastics are tiny, but are a big problem.

“Research shows they're everywhere, from the fish we eat, to the water we drink, and inside our bodies. While the long-term impacts of this on human health and ocean ecosystems is still being explored, early indications are worrying.”

Injured wobbegong which had a cigarette burn in its head (left) and the hundreds of butts which Casement has collected (right).
Casement said she found this dead wobbegong which had a cigarette burn in its head at La Perouse and had collected hundreds of cigarette butts from local beaches. Source: Supplied

She said it was widely known that plastic pollution was having a “devastating effect” on marine wildlife, particularly seabirds and turtles who mistake plastic for food which leaves them vulnerable to illness, disease and death.

“This includes everything from small plastic particles through to things like balloons and soft plastic bags, which are known to be particularly lethal for wildlife,” Noble said.

“In Australia, it's estimated that up to 145,000 tonnes of plastic leaks into the environment each year. Globally, that estimate varies between 19 to 23 million metric tonnes (MMT) entering our waterways annually.”

Alarmingly, Australia consumes more single-use plastic per person than any other country except Singapore, she added.

Straws which Casement has collected (left) and plastic lids she had found (right).
Plastic pollution is at crisis levels with Australians being the second largest consumer per person of single-use plastic. Source: Supplied

Anti-plastics campaigner Anita Horan told Yahoo, there were more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans and the health hazards they posed were “wide ranging and detrimental”.

“More than 40 per cent of plastic is used once then tossed out,” she said.

“We know all this, yet still the production of plastic grows exponentially, it is predicted that plastic production will triple by 2060.”

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