KIDS TOO: Michael McGrath with a large plastic crate that was washed up on Yeppoon beach. INSET: Dr John McGrath.
KIDS TOO: Michael McGrath with a large plastic crate that was washed up on Yeppoon beach. INSET: Dr John McGrath. James McGrath

CQ beaches: Beautiful one day, polluted the next

SANDY beaches, crystal clear waters and waves of discarded plastic.

Our beaches aren't what they used to be and one passionate local is leading the charge to give pollution the boot.

Koorana Crocodile Farm tour guide and surf life saver John McGrath has lived at Yeppoon for 14 years and is sick of taking his morning swim in a sea of trash.

"It's at all the local beaches,” Mr McGrath said.

James with his children Emma and Michael.
James with his children Emma and Michael. James McGrath

"I frequent Farnborough Beach a lot for surfing and I probably swim 500 times a year at the Main Beach and majority of the time, I see it.

"I see plastic bags from out at sea end up on the beach on the shore line, in the water, in the sand and in the rock walls.

"These big things break up into little pieces. I don't know how many millions of micro plastics there are in the ocean.

"Last week at Farnborough Beach, I found a 20kg plastic crate buried in the sand. I retrieved that plus a huge number of other items but that's only touching the surface.”

Mr McGrath takes time during each trip to the beach to collect as much rubbish as he can, but he says it barely makes a dent on the total amount of rubbish pouring in from the ocean.

A small selection of what James McGrath collected in a 100m stretch on Farnborough Beach on March 22.
A small selection of what was collected in a 100m stretch on Farnborough Beach on March 22. James McGrath

"If I only have pockets, I will fill them,” he said.

"As president of the SurfRider Foundation Capricorn Coast branch, I organise clean up events and last year in September at Nine Mile and Five Rocks, we got well over a tonne in two days.

"That's predominately plastic, but you do get wood, rubber and tyres as well. But the vast majority is plastics.”

Despite days when the water looks clear, a large wave hitting the rock walls drags a deluge of micro plastic out into the ocean once more.

Mr McGrath said it is difficult to keep on top of the clean-up.

A small selection of what James McGrath collected in a 100m stretch on Farnborough Beach on March 22.
A small selection of what James McGrath collected in a 100m stretch on Farnborough Beach on March 22. James McGrath

"There's an estimated 10 million tonnes of new rubbish ending up in the ocean every year around the world,” he said.

"It's ridiculously over the top.

"We can collect data about what's ending up there and find the source of the rubbish.

"For example, I'm finding lots of Nongfu Springs water bottles that I suspect have been thrown overboard from Chinese cruise ships.

"I've been collecting data and photos over time about what I find and contribute t to the Tangaroa Blue Foundation.

James McGrath has been organising clean up events around Yeppoon for the past 10 years.
James McGrath has been organising clean up events around Yeppoon for the past 10 years. James McGrath

"They go all around the country, collecting data on marine debris and approaching industry and government.

"I'm also on the Capricorn Coast Local Marine Advisory Committee which goes to the main office in Townsville and tells them how the reef is going in different parts.

"We just put in a grant to get more traps in drains around Yeppoon and Rockhampton because a lot of stuff is coming out of storm water drains and onto the beach. I've seen it first-hand.”

When Mr McGrath did a net drag on the weekend after a scourge of blue bottle stings, he pulled up even more plastic.

"I did a plankton trawl in waist-deep water and couldn't believe how many tiny plastics, sub 1mm, there were,” he said.

"It's bad. That was an eye-opener.

Rubbish collected last Thursday within 5 metres, on the high tide at the base of the Yeppoon SLSC ramp.
Rubbish collected last Thursday within 5 metres, on the high tide at the base of the Yeppoon SLSC ramp. John McGrath

"I went for a swim with my eight-year-old the other morning and my son had to wade through heaps of plastic.

"It's wrong and it will get worse and only grow.”

Despite the versatility of plastic for society's usage, Mr McGrath said people are overusing and abusing it.

"People have no idea of the impact beyond chucking an empty water bottle in the gutter,” he said.

"It washes out to sea, ends up in the ocean circulating around, breaking up as it does, and causing problems for animals who eat it.

"We know turtles, bird, whales and probably sharks are dying because they're ingest it.

Small pieces of plastic that washed up on Lammermoor Beach on March 15.
Small pieces of plastic that washed up on Lammermoor Beach on March 15. James McGrath

"I've seen a plastic bag in the water and they do look just like jelly fish. What chance do turtles have?”

On his way to work every day, he sees new take-away rubbish discarded at a nearby look-out.

"It gets used once and then it's discarded poorly then washes down into the creeks and eventually out to sea,” he said.

"It's deliberate, accidental and careless. Sometimes a plastic bag with bait in it will fly off the boat and they can't get to it. It's accidental stuff ending up in the ocean as well.

"Clearly the behaviour of the people buying these projects is not reasonable and they chuck it out the window while driving.

"There is a minority of people who are just blatantly reckless.”

The environmental warrior said studies have also shown that humans are being directly affected by the plastic pollution.

James McGrath has been organising clean up events around Yeppoon for the past 10 years.
James McGrath has been organising clean up events around Yeppoon for the past 10 years. James McGrath

"It's not just an eyesore and a danger to wildlife. It gets into our food system by fishing ingesting it or the plastic toxins leaking into fish tissue,” he said.

"I have young kids too and I don't want them stepping on a needle or whatever on the beach.

"I care about the wider community and how is a struggling tourism community like ours going to compete with other places with so much debris on our beaches?”

Mr McGrath has hosted local clean-up events for the past 10 years.

He will be holding the next clean-up at Five Rocks and Nine Mile beach on April 27-28 at 8am.

James McGrath has been finding bottles from China washed up on Yeppoon's beaches.
James McGrath has been finding bottles from China washed up on Yeppoon's beaches. James McGrath

"Last time we had 70-100 people turn up and although a lot of these are families there are some new people turning up too which is a positive,” he said.

"More people are becoming aware and it's clear there's a lot of people who are doing things on their own.

"But the problem is becoming so big that we really need stuff done at a government level.”

Mr McGrath's take-away message?

"Reduce, reuse and recycle. Less littering and get proactive in getting stuff off the beaches and out of the oceans.”

A Livingstone Shire Council spokesperson said plastic pollution is a societal problem with requires everyone to "act together”.

James McGrath has been finding bottles from China washed up on Yeppoon's beaches for the past four years.
James McGrath has been finding bottles from China washed up on Yeppoon's beaches for the past four years. James McGrath

"Council is committed to reducing, reusing and recycling through a range of initiatives which facilitate positive environmental sustainability outcomes across our region,” the spokesperson said.

"These include developing and implementing a Waste Reduction and Recycling Plan, involvement in the Reef Guardian Councils programme, participation in the Habitat Stepping Stones programme and the installation of litter traps.

"Council encourages members of the community and visitors to our region to do the right thing and discard their rubbish responsibly.”