Nurdles Response

A note about beach-nesting birds: 

People heading out to collect nurdles should be aware that beach nesting birds, including hooded plovers and oystercatchers, may be present in the nurdle clean-up areas.

Further information about working around Hooded Plover areas is available on Page 3 of our Information Sheet

FINAL UPDATE – 19 December 2018

This report is the expected to be the final update on recovery efforts being undertaken by Wannon Water following the nurdle spill that occurred in November 2017.

Previous updates can be found here

We appreciate the ongoing efforts by members of the community with the monitoring and clean-up of a broad range of marine plastic, including nurdles, from beaches in south-west Victoria.

The nurdle event in Warrnambool has had a lengthy recovery phase, with efforts extending well after the mandated clean-up actions required by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) had been met.

Wannon Water completed a formal debrief with community members in July 2018, and subsequently circulated the findings and our response to all those who had attended community meetings throughout the incident.

In August 2018, Wannon Water reviewed our monitoring and clean-up approach in consultation with the EPA, Parks Victoria, Warrnambool City Council and community representatives. From September 2018 we adopted an improved method that aimed to balance the location and abundance of nurdles, the cost to our customers, risk to the environment, and the safety and conditions for those doing the collection. We committed to this approach until the end of 2018.

The following provides an update on each of the elements of our recovery activities since September 2018.

1 – We will clean up nurdles and other ocean plastic every fortnight:

Wannon Water has completed seven beach clean-ups since the beginning of September 2018, totalling more than 260 hours of effort from our employees and labour hire staff.

These clean-ups focussed on Shelly Beach/Second Bay where about two thirds of all the nurdles collected or received by Wannon Water have been found over time. We also conducted a clean-up along East Beach in Port Fairy, which is the site of the second-most abundant collection of nurdles over the past year.

In total, around 1.3 litres or 30,000 nurdles have been collected by Wannon Water since the beginning of September. This represents around seven per cent of the total volume of nurdles collected by Wannon Water since November 2017. Collection volumes have continued to decline since September. We also collected quantities of other small ocean plastics unrelated to the nurdle event.

Clean beach

2 – We will monitor between clean-ups

Wannon Water has continued to visit Shelly Beach regularly to monitor nurdle numbers so that we understand how their abundance changes in response to clean-ups, weather and tides.

Monitoring data confirms that numbers have continued to decline following a second peak in late April that occurred following a severe weather event. It has been encouraging that subsequent stormy weather throughout winter and spring has not led to another significant increase in nurdle abundance. This observation, coupled with community and Wannon Water monitoring and clean-up results indicates that the vast majority of nurdles have now been removed from local beaches. 

3 – Community reports should be directed to us

Wannon Water has invited community observations to help target our ongoing clean-up. We have not received any community requests for additional clean-ups since the beginning of September.

4 – We will continue to build a long-term picture

We recently completed our third round of quarterly mapping from Port Fairy to the east of Warrnambool, using the same method adopted by the Incident Management Team during the State Emergency phase late last year.

The latest map is shown below. It builds on our last mapping run completed in September, and helps provide a long-term view of the extent and distribution of nurdles along our local coastline.

Nurdle map December 2018 

Overall, the map shows a very low abundance of nurdles along the full length of the coastline surveyed. This is consistent with our other monitoring data and observations from clean-ups and ad-hoc beach inspections. The map is also available here. 

Recovery activities complete

Wannon Water considers that it is now appropriate to finish our nurdle collection activities, and that the recovery phase of the incident is complete.

We will continue to undertake periodic monitoring at Shelly Beach for a period, and will review the ongoing benefit of that activity in the first quarter of 2019.

Further business improvement will continue within Wannon Water as a result of the incident, including applying the learnings to the planned upgrade of the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant, and further improving our emergency response processes.

Wannon Water has concluded active investigations into the source of the nurdles, which disappointingly for ourselves and others, remains unknown. We regard this investigation as still “open” 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. Any additional information from the public that could assist in this regard would be welcomed.

Documented impacts

There have been no documented 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.

We expect that there will continue to be observations of nurdles along our coastline, and recognise that some of these will be unrelated to the incident at our sewage treatment plant. As an example, it is expected that nurdles from a major spill in South Africa in October 2017 will find their way to Australia’s southern coastline, potentially impacting our region at some time in the coming years. 

Sharing our learnings

Wannon Water continues to proactively seek opportunities to share the learnings from the nurdle event in Warrnambool, which was the first of its kind in Australia. We have contributed to journal articles, international research case studies, water industry and emergency response peer networks. We will also present a paper to OzWater19, the national water industry conference in Melbourne next May.

The illustration below provides a summary of Wannon Water’s recovery and response activities since November 2017.


Nurdle infographic December 2018