Queensland Ocean Crusader volunteers fight a losing battle in ‘phenomenal’ flood debris clean up

Original publication by Alex Brewster for abc.net.au on 20 September 2022

Ocean Crusader volunteers clean poly fibre from the banks of the Logan River in south-east Queensland.
(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

Seven months on from February’s flood disaster, conservation group Ocean Crusaders is still cleaning up tonnes of debris from south-east Queensland riverbanks.

It says greater investment is needed from all levels of government.

Ian and Annika Thomson founded the non-profit foundation 12 years ago to remove marine waste from the environment to protect flora and fauna.

Mr Thomson feels like they are fighting a losing battle.

“Our biggest year previously, we manually picked 160 tonnes of rubbish out of the banks. This year, we’ve already cracked through 210 tonnes, and we’ve got three months to go,” he said.

“The amount of rubbish out the west side of the Brisbane River is phenomenal, we’re picking out 1.2 to 1.3 tonnes a day still.”

Key points:

  • Up to 1.3 tonnes of marine rubbish is being plucked from Brisbane’s riverbanks per day after the February flood disaster
  • The state and federal governments announced almost $30 million of investment to help environmental recovery in flood affected areas
  • With another La Niña declared, there are calls for permanent funding for marine clean up
Bags weighing 300 kilograms of marine waste taken from the Logan River destined for a nearby dump site.
(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

The Thomsons are the only two full-time Ocean Crusader employees, alongside one part-time worker.

“We’ve been cleaning five days a week, every week, so we’re extremely tired. But we’ve got to do the job. It’s for our nature, it’s for our wildlife,” Mr Thomson said.

“We had a bit of rain at the end of last week, and the streets empty back out again into the middle of the river and whilst we usually clean the banks, the stuff that was in the middle, the navigation hazards, were just phenomenal.

“You’re sitting there you’re trying to clean and it’s just coming back time and time again.”

Politicians ‘sitting in their offices’ as disaster unfolds

Mr Thomson said fighting between different levels of government regarding who was responsible for the clean-up of various areas was incredibly frustrating.

“I’d love to take every single politician out for a day where we play, we’re playing in waist-deep water, in deep mud, trying to pull this stuff out to protect our environment.

“They’re sitting in their offices making decisions. If they came out for one day, or if they saw a turtle that I picked up that had a plastic bag coming out of its anus, they would change their mind immediately and then they would actually understand our predicament.”\

Ocean Crusader’s Ian Thomson says there needs to be permanent government funding to fight marine pollution.
(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

The Australian and Queensland governments recently announced almost $30 million investment to help environmental recovery in areas across the state impacted by recent floods.

Environment and natural resource management groups were able to apply for a large share of funding, with nearly $23 million on the table for locally-led riverine recovery projects.

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the task to restore our damaged rivers and riverbanks had only just begun.

“This funding will help local groups, who know their areas, to plan and restore their local environments,” Ms Scanlon said.

“They’re available for natural resource management groups, eligible First Nations corporations and bulk water supply utilities to assess the environmental impacts of the floods and plan reconstruction works.”

Volunteers removed nearly a tonne of rubbish and flood debris from the Logan River.
(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

In a statement, a Logan City Council spokesperson said it had contracted organisation Healthy Land and Water to undertake a monthly clean-up of bank-bound and in-water floating debris until July 2025.

But Mr Thomson said the organisation needed to clean up more regularly than once a month.

“There’s so much more work to do. It’s going to take years to clean up after this and we’ve got another wet season coming so there needs to be permanent funding.”

‘This is our problem’

A group of about 50 Ocean Crusader volunteers spent their Sunday morning cleaning poly fibre that was choking mangroves on the banks of the Logan River.

The debris was washed up at the site in the 2013 floods and has been pushed further into the environment with each flood since.

Volunteer Thomas Kraft said he feels a sense of duty to preserve and protect our natural resources.

“When we discover a place like this it’s genuinely heartbreaking because this is our problem and when I’m looking at it, I feel responsible for it as a human,” Mr Kraft said.

“I’ve been involved with Ocean Crusaders for four years and to have an actual tangible, direct impact is massive.

“This just fills my bucket, no matter the scale.”

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