Tasmanian beach faces serious environmental threat thanks to a burst bean bag

Environmental officials race to clean up a Tasmanian beach after a beanbag explodes, leaving polystyrene balls everywhere.

Clean up efforts are in full swing on Tasmania’s Bruny Island as thousands of tiny polystyrene balls threaten local sea life.

After a beach-goer’s bean bag disintegrated, polystyrene balls spread across the sand at Adventure Bay, stretching across into accompanying bushlands.

bruny island

Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) Ranger Claire Mason was alerted to the incident on Friday, after discovering what had happened. “On the beach and a bit of the bush alongside the beach there are thousands, if not millions, of tiny little polystyrene balls,” she said. “We’ve heard that someone brought a bean bag to the beach and it burst.”

Polystyrene is a synthetic plastic foam that can cause serious damage to the environment and almost never breaks down. “Polystyrene is kind of aerated plastic and so when that gets out into the ocean it floats on the surface, so it can travel a really long way because it’s so light-weight,” Ms Mason said. “We’re really worried that marine life, especially seabirds, eat it and mistake it for food. That can cause blockages and cause them to feel full and then starve.”

Mason also fears that the chemicals in the plastic will cause harm to the surrounding areas. “Because it’s plastic it contains heaps of toxic chemicals,” Ms Mason said. “When they break down in the ocean or when they’re inside birds or other marine life, it leaches into their muscles and tissues and organs and can cause all kinds of disease and negative health impacts.”

Fortunately, the wind blew the majority of the balls up onto the sand and not into the water, however, PWS members are still in the process of cleaning up the mess.

This is just one instance of people disrespecting the island’s land and water, which is extremely disappointing considering we go to the beach to enjoy it. The least we could do is look after it. The governor of the Bruny Island Environment Network, Bob Graham, said that people treating the environment like shit happens almost every day.

“I could talk for half an hour on the sorts of instances we come across almost every day,” Graham said. “It just shows that people, whether they’re islanders, whether they’re visitors, quite often they just don’t understand or have the respect for the environment and its fragility.”

Reports have shown that littering and human pollution has increased exponentially on the island as its tourist reputation has grown. Graham says that this incident is a call to learn more about the environment and develop a better sense of respect for it. “It’s special because it’s relatively intact, it’s suffered less damage than environmental features in other parts of Australia and Tasmania,” he said.

“It is a very intricate complex of birds and animals and vegetation and different environments and habitats. It’s like understanding your own backyard, unless you understand it and know how it works you can’t look after it properly.”

Australia is not a country known for its compassion or understanding of the environment. As a country of climate change deniers with some of the highest rates of animal extinction in the world, it’s not surprising that its citizens have adopted the same attitude.