$52 000 Fine for Littering

The first ever prosecution by the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for garbage pollution in Victorian waters has resulted in a $52 000 fine for the Hong Kong based Tian Ren Company Ltd.

An off duty police officer out fishing on Port Phillip Bay in January witnessed a large plastic bag being dumped over the side of a Tian Ren ship (Sky Lucky) as it passed Sorrento at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay. The bag split open when it hit the water and was found to contain plastic bottles and bags, cigarette packets and butts, food wrappings and other rubbish covering an area of about 25 square metres.

A report by Dr Matt Edmunds of Australian Marine Ecology on the potential impact of the garbage on the bay found it could spread widely, contribute to chronic accumulation of plastics and toxins and pose a direct risk to marine species.

Plastics are the most common man-made object sighted at sea. 50% or more of marine litter is made from some form of plastic. A daily input of more than 600 000 plastic containers into the oceans was attributed to shipping in 1982 and in 1975 the U.S. National Academy of Science estimated that 6.4 million tonnes of litter were jettisoned from ships at sea each year.

A 2001 study of litter in the North Pacific gyre found 5,114g plastic/km2 (3-7 times the greatest concentration of plastic found previously). This was six times the mass of plankton netted in the same study. The latest results available from Victoria beach litter surveys (2004/05) found that 52% of the litter (items counted) on Melbourne beaches was cigarrette butts, while 23% was plastic litter of some sort.

The lawyer for the Tian Ren Company in the EPA prosecution submitted the garbage dumped into Port Phillip Bay was similar to that disposed "into the bay on a daily basis by those who use it and should be contrasted" with an oil spillage.

From the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia: Pollution - Technical Annex 2

Marine pollution from land-based sources (LBS) has been seen mainly in regional terms, but is now a source of global concern (Nollkaemper 1992a). Liffmann (1994) stated that 'not unlike other forms of marine pollution, land based sources [of marine debris] are a much more significant factor than are vessels', and quoted other authors saying that vessels account for only about 10% of all pollutants entering the oceans. A new international convention for the protection of the oceans from all sources of pollution has been mooted (Davis 1990).

A graphic example of the size of the problem can be seen in these videos taken from a research cruise through the North Pacific Gyre (some language is not safe for work or sensitive ears).

1: Stop using plastic bags
2: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
3: Report litterers to EPA or other authorities
4: Nag your friends
5: Teach your children
6: Despair at the scale of the problem...

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