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    Melbourne's dirty (and lethal) problem

    15 May, 2015

    ​After spending many hours in the field conducting platypus surveys all over Melbourne throughout the last 6 weeks, I’ve been appalled by the amount of litter I see around our precious waterways. While some of this is passive litter (i.e. blown out of bins etc), even more alarming is the deliberate dumping by thoughtless individuals (see photos).

    Litter tends to accumulate in rivers and creeks as it is blown and washed from the surrounding areas. The litter is trapped in the channel until it washes downstream and eventually into Port Philip Bay. Lots of items, particularly plastics, take many years to break down. Not only is this unsightly and potentially contaminates our water supply, it can have devastating consequences for the diverse wildlife found in Melbourne’s waterways.

    Platypuses very susceptible to entanglement in any enclosed loops due to their streamlined body shape and foraging behaviour. Unfortunately, it is an issue that platypusSPOT sees far too often. Three of the 22 platypuses trapped so far this autumn have been entangled in litter (one with injuries so severe it eventually died despite admirable efforts by Healesville staff). Throughout 2013/14, 10% of all platypuses captured throughout the greater Melbourne region were found entwined in items of litter. Historically, entanglement rates in some urban waterways have been as high as 30%! Animals that become entangled face a slow and painful death as the items abrade and cut into the underlying flesh, inhibit swimming and foraging ability, and lead to starvation. It’s also incredibly distressing for researchers who find platypuses in this state and for the vets who have to treat them.

    Litter is an issue that we all contribute to and can all help to resolve. Communities must change their behaviours, governments must ensure adequate infrastructure is in place and properly maintained, and industry must look at alternative solutions to reduce packaging and waste. Meanwhile, as individuals, we can all play our part by refusing disposable plastics, generating less waste (choose products with little or no packaging) and recycling more (see www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/services-and-advice/households/waste-and-recycling), ensuring non-reusable waste is disposed of properly, or challenge yourself to change your behaviour like picking up just 3 pieces of litter (or more) whenever you go out (Take3 campaign), not using disposable plastics for a month (Plastic Free July) or become involved in a local Clean-Up event with your own Two Hands.

    You can also report litterers in Victoria.





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