Our Coast Our Mission: Keeping Aussie coastlines clean and plastic-free
Last year British deep-sea diver Rich Horner’s video of him swimming underwater amidst plastic junk near Bali revealed the terrifying extent of plastic pollution in our oceans. The plastic curse - more than eight million tonnes of it being dumped every year – is weakening our marine ecosystem more than ever with reports indicating that only five per cent of the actual pollution is visible on the surface. The absolute extent of the pollution becomes even severe underwater, threatening our marine wildlife and fragile ecosystem. The plastic epidemic is gripping Australian coastlines too, with Northern Territory and Queensland, according to an index, being labelled as the largest polluters.
Perturbed by the alarming statistics and keen to make a difference, Malcom Doyle, a sales executive and an impassioned environmentalist started Our Coast Our Mission (OCOM) in 2017. A South Australian not-for-profit initiative, OCOM undertakes regular beach and foreshore clean-up drives, creates awareness about the fragility of marine ecology and holds educational seminars for students and the wider community on the importance of keeping our coastlines clean and plastic free.
Till date, the six-member team along with 8,000 volunteers have undertaken 198 clean-up drives - 20 in Queensland, 20 in New South Wales, 20 in Victoria and more than 130 in SA alone.
In conversation with TAL, Malcom (29) who moved to Adelaide from New Zealand in 2009, speaks about the strides made by the organisation, its learning trajectory and plans for the future.
When was Our Coast Our Mission founded and what prompted you to start it? What are the various programs undertaken by the organisation?
I had volunteered with other groups along the Australian eastern coast and within New Zealand in the past and found there weren’t many groups here that were holding regular clean up drives. So, I decided to start one, and thus OCOM came into being in 2017.
We undertake beach and foreshore clean up drives and hold educational talks about marine debris and plastic pollution in schools and the wider community. OCOM is a registered not-for-profit and will soon be a charity, hopefully, by the end of 2019.
We became fully registered and operational in July 2017, and till date have held 198 of our own clean up events and supported many others.
News reports and surveys indicate that compared to its counterparts, SA fares better in terms of coastline cleanliness. Does your experience in the clean up drives undertaken in various states reflect this data?
I do believe SA is way ahead when it comes to coastline cleanliness compared to many other states. I think this attitude stems from having a well-established and long-standing recycling program (10c container deposit scheme) and others. I also feel that SA adopts new ideas and programs easier than others.
Also, South Australia is lucky to have a southern facing coastline and a much smaller population density, so the amount of debris found on our coast is less than other eastern facing states (from my experience anyway). However, we have an extremely long way to go, and SA is not exempt from ocean/beach debris.
It still throws up some surprises! Last year during a clean-up drive in Perry's Bend Reserve in Noarlunga Downs we found 63 syringes! The issue was relayed to the local council who then worked with the Environment Department to clear out the mess.
What has been your most challenging project till date and why? What are the other challenges OCOM has faced over the last three years?
The most challenging project was the East Coast Spring Clean trip we did in October-December 2017. I travelled from Adelaide to Port Douglas, Queensland over five weeks and had 70 beach cleans along the way (two every day). The logistics alone were a nightmare, but in the end, the result was worth the pain!
Other challenges the organisation faces are mostly related to finances. Till recently, we were not a very well-known organisation, and that made applying for funds a tad difficult. We had to fund at least 90% of our operations ourselves, and also faced difficulties in applying for proper permits and insurances in the beginning. However, things are looking brighter for us, and we can’t wait to be a charity by the end of 2019.
How has the reception been for the work your organisation has done?
Almost everyone we have come across or spoken to about our work has been extremely encouraging! We don’t do this for the accolades but it’s always nice to have positive feedback.
What advice would you give to those who are not aware of how detrimental callous human behaviour can be to marine health, and how can we better ourselves in the way we interact with coastlines and oceans?
My advice would be to get involved with local clean up groups and witness the extent of damage first hand. Follow us or similar groups on social media. On a daily basis, we post information, news articles, and graphics that document issues facing our oceans and coastlines.
As individuals, we need to become more attentive to the needs of our immediate environment and be dedicated in bettering it. We cannot afford to be lazy and think, “why isn’t the council/government doing more?”
Numerous tools and resources are available to us at the click of a button, and we need to utilise them. If we can show the governing bodies that we are educated, informed, and ready to implement change, they would no longer have any excuses to not take our demands seriously.
What are the organisation’s future plans?
Our plans for the near future are to streamline our current activities and be more efficient while carrying out operations on site. We have recently received some funding from SA Water and will be getting a custom trailer made, which will help us tackle more difficult sites known for large scale illegal dumping.