Beach guardian tells of Royal National Park's plastic ruin

TRASHED: Seabird specialist Lindsay Smith examines a pile of plastic waste collected by Glen Mitchell from a remote beach in the Royal National Park. Picture: supplied

TRASHED: Seabird specialist Lindsay Smith examines a pile of plastic waste collected by Glen Mitchell from a remote beach in the Royal National Park. Picture: supplied

From the isolated beach cabin that has been his home for the past 50 years, the ocean is literally a stone’s throw away for Royal National Park resident Glen Mitchell.

But in recent years the natural beauty of his surrounds has been forced into competition with some human-wrought horrors. 

Dozens of syringes washed onto the sand. An endless, growing supply of plastic waste. Dead birds, a dead dolphin and – once – two baby seals, unable to be saved.

“I buried the seals in the last year,” said Mr Mitchell, whose Bulgo Beach shack clings to a steep slope that rises up to meet Otford lookout and train station.

“It’s really sad when they look at you with their big eyes, screaming for help.

“But you can’t help them because they’ve got a belly full of plastic.”

Earlier this month Mr Mitchell left his remote home to deliver a mound of plastic waste to Wollongong and – with it – a message.

He wants people to think about about their need for plastic, and how they dispose of it. 

“A lot of the plastic [found at Bulgo Beach] is from people just throwing it down the toilet,” he said.

“Sometimes I’ll pick up 80 ‘drug bags’ (small, resealable plastic bags) in one tide. There are condoms and syringes.

“Instead of throwing it in the toilet and pressing the button, throw it in the bin next to the toilet.” 

Lindsay Smith, of the Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association, was at Wollongong to examine the waste collected by Mr Mitchell. 

He found plastic tooth brushes, bottles, bags, straws, string and small pieces of the stuff.

He has seen this same material in the bellies of dead birds that have been cut open to determine their cause of death.

“Basically, the birds are starving to death because they feel like they are full [because of the plastic in their stomachs],” he said.  

“Humans generally have no concern for their impact on their environment.

“They don’t even stop to give it a thought, because it doesn’t impact on them directly, but it’s pretty upsetting when you see dolphins, sea turtles and seals tangled up.

“We know that it’s happening but no one’s doing a great deal about it.” 

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