From Coogee in 1950s to Global Marine Plastic Pollution

New growth on a Norfolk Pine

Coogee of the 1950s was an idyllic place for children. It had changed little since the 1930s. Great Norfolk Pine Trees populated the foreshore parks exuding a beautiful resinous scent that mingled with the smell of the sea.

Coogee Beach from the southern Point, with Wylies Baths in the fore ground circa 1930

The ocean was vast and mostly benign behind the protective barrier of Wedding Cake Island, though east coast lows could bring occasional heavy seas. Such events damaged the pier visible in this image and lead to its demolition in 1934.

A rocky sandstone coastline, rolling foreshore parks and access to large private spaces surrounding the sumptuous mansions of another era enabled luxurious opportunities for play. In winter, during school holidays, we would play touch football from early morning till sunset on a wide sweep of parkland at the top of Grant Reserve just south of the beach.

When a new decade began television was only a few years old, and some of the earliest television commercials were for washing and cleaning detergents.

It wasn’t long before these non-biodegradable detergents were carried into the ocean through sewage outfalls at Bondi and Malabar. Carried by sea spray they ate into the waxy protection of the Norfolk pine trees needles inducing a slow death. Later the development biodegradable detergents, and a systematic program of removing the old, and new plantings brought a second generation Norfolk pine trees to beachfront parks.

Marine plastic pollution wasn’t a problem in the 1950s, but soon its presence was felt. The first marine plastic I saw was a shive bung lying at the high-water mark on the beach. From there the marine plastic problem gathered speed and eventually took off. Now the marine plastic problem is global with great gyres of plastic waste circulating in Atlantic, Indian and the mid Pacific Oceans.

Surface currents: Plastic garbage patches in the subtropical gyres
Graph: Ocean Atlas 2017, Petra Böckmann/Heinrich Böll Foundation

Almost anywhere we go these days we can come across examples of marine plastic.

It was this global presence that led me to write The Bay of Debris a study of the mounting plastic problem.

The Bay of Debris

This story chronicles the spread of plastic refuse to the Bay of Debris.

The story forms part of my new multimedia book Beyond Borders: conversations across boundaries. Copies of the book are available are available through:

Apple Books

Amazon, and

Google Play

If you prefer a simple text version, they are available through this website

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