Marine debris is rubbish or litter that finds its way into the marine environment. According to the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014, marine debris within the Region includes plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, plastic and glass bottles, rubber thongs, aerosols and drink cans.

Between 2008 and March 2014, volunteers from the Australian Marine Debris Initiative collected about 683,000 items of marine debris, weighing over 42 tonnes.

Plastic is the most common type of marine debris found on the beaches in the Great Barrier Reef, reflecting worldwide trends where plastic comprises between 50 to 90 per cent of all recorded debris.

Plastic bags and single-use plastic bottles, along with cigarette butts, are the three major challenges for the Reef’s marine environment.

Impacts on marine life and ecosystem

Marine debris comes from both land and sea-based sources and can travel immense distances. It can pose a navigation hazard and has the potential to transport chemical contaminants and invasive species.

It can also smother coral, entangle wildlife or be ingested. This not only causes death or injury for wildlife, it also negatively affects tourism and poses a threat to human health.

Marine debris from the catchment generally appears to accumulate and remain confined within the lagoon system of the Reef but with a northward movement.

At the southern end of the Reef, debris appears to be more ocean-sourced. Large deposits of debris are accumulating in the northern-most parts of the Reef, which are of international origin.

Management actions

We’re working with communities and industries to minimise the source and occurrence of marine debris in the Great Barrier Reef.

With support through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, we have already seen on-ground community clean-ups, targeted education and awareness-raising. This initiative forms one of the four key projects to be delivered under the Australian Government’s Dugong and Turtle Projection Plan.