Nurdles Response


Shelly Beach view

 

Wannon Water is continuing its commitment to clean up nurdles from local beaches following the illegal dumping of the small plastic pellets into the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant and their subsequent release into the ocean in mid-November 2017.

Nurdles are pre-production plastic beads (they look like tiny hailstones) used in the manufacturing of everyday plastic goods and products.

Community groups and individuals wanting to help with the clean up are advised to read the following information if they plan to head out on the beaches.

 

UPDATE - 11 MAY

This update provides an overview of our ongoing activity since the end of February when we released a copy of our report to the EPA into the illegal dumping of nurdles into the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant last November.

The incident is possibly the first record of a nurdle spill from a sewage treatment plant in Australia.

We continue to conduct regular inspections within our plant, and there has been no new activity to indicate continuing delivery of nurdles. Additional screens installed within the plant to improve environmental protections remain in place.

The clean-up of nurdles on local beaches has involved a concerted and sustained effort by the community, Wannon Water and other agency staff. We would particularly like to acknowledge the very significant contribution by community volunteers and thank them for their efforts.

 

Nurdles in buckets

 

Monitoring and Clean Up

We remain committed to ongoing monitoring and clean-up of nurdles occurring on our local beaches. This will continue until the end of 2018, when we will reassess the need for ongoing activity. Wannon Water is managing our ongoing effort through a dedicated project team who undertake this work as part of their normal duties.

Our ongoing approach is to monitor the beaches ourselves, and also to respond to community observations of nurdles that are made through social media or direct reporting to Wannon Water by either phoning 1300 926 668 or emailing Nurdle.Response@wannonwater.com.au

We understand from our regular surveys from Port Fairy to Logans Beach that the number of nurdles being observed on beaches had declined during the late summer, but we also understand this does not mean the environment is “nurdle free”. We recently sampled 11 sites on Shelly Beach and found nurdles buried in the sand, particularly in the top 20 centimetres. Several sites had no nurdles which was encouraging.

During late March, and again in mid-April, severe weather along our coast exposed numbers of these buried nurdles on some local beaches. Community volunteers undertook further clean up, as did Wannon Water. In total, Wannon Water collected around 4.5 litres, or 100,000 nurdles from these two events. The amount of nurdles collected by community volunteers was also significant, although we don’t have an estimate of this volume. The recent collections add to the 24.7 litres (approx. 570,000) of nurdles which we reported had been collected from beaches by community and Wannon Water from mid-November 2017 to the end of February 2018.

 

Nurdle bags

 

We remain interested in receiving nurdles from community collections to include in the overall record keeping, rather than try and convert measures reported on social media. Nurdles can be dropped off at our Warrnambool office. More information can be found in our Nurdle Information Sheet.

We’re also interested in increasing the efficiency of clean-up activities, and have tried collecting nurdles, other plastics, weed etc. without separating it on the beach, and then sorting/sieving the lot as a batch later. This appears to be more efficient but we’re still finalising our thoughts on this. We’ve also been exploring the concept of a custom-built mechanised approach, but this remains just an idea at this stage. We would welcome other innovative ideas on how collection efficiency could be improved. Wannon Water has spent in excess of $330,000 so far on this event.

We are commencing another detailed survey and mapping run from Port Fairy to Logans Beach during May. This will be the first quarterly mapping, with two more runs planned for August and November to track the longer term movement and abundance of nurdles. Previous mapping has been very useful in understanding the amount of nurdles on beaches, and the priority areas for clean-up. The timing of these quarterly surveys aligns with particularly high tides along the coast, which we think should assist in uncovering any buried nurdles.

Beyond Nurdles

The nurdle clean-up has also highlighted the very large volume of non-nurdle plastics on the beaches between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, which in our view represents the more significant environmental risk. These plastics are not related to Wannon Water. 

As a result of this observation, Wannon Water has initiated and sponsored the Clean Oceans Collective – caring for Mirteech group (Mirteech is the local indigenous term for ocean). Our sponsorship is for $30,000 and in-kind project officer support.  The program intends on using a science-based approach to better understand the beach plastics problems, prioritise actions and implement changes.  The steering group involves Wannon Water, Warrnambool City Council, Moyne Shire, Glenelg Hopkins CMA and two community representatives.

 

Clean Oceans Collective

 

The Clean Oceans Collective has engaged the Tangaroa Blue Foundation (experts in marine debris) to hold a series of multi-stakeholder workshops over 2018 and early 2019 to develop the community program.  A local coordinator has also been engaged to support the community participation and assist with coordination.

Investigation

Wannon Water is actively continuing its investigation into the source of the nurdles, which remains unknown at this time. We remain committed to this investigation, as we believe it is important to help avoid future events, and also to bring a greater sense of closure for all who have been involved. We are also considering the possibility that the original source may never be known.

Impacts

There have been no impacts on public health or safety, or any wildlife deaths attributed to this incident. Visual amenity has been impacted for some communities.

Some nurdles remain in the environment, although we do not know how many, as we do not know how many were delivered to, or passed through, our treatment plant. Unfortunately, we believe that the collection and removal of all nurdles that passed through our treatment plant and into our local environment is not a practical or realistic objective.

Sharing our learnings

Wannon Water has commenced sharing a number of learnings from this event with a broader audience, to raise the profile of plastic pollution, and encourage others in our sector to consider “unknown” risks and the opportunities for controlling or responding to them if they occur.

We recently addressed the Victorian Water Sector Resilience Network, which included representatives from a number of emergency service agencies.

DELWP also recently conducted an inter-agency debrief in Warrnambool into the incident management response, which Wannon Water had a number of representatives attend. The findings from that debrief will be used to inform broader Victorian responses to incidents that may have similar characteristics to nurdles.