Plastic debris washes up on Sydney and Central Coast beaches from lost shipping containers
Once only seen in hospitals, in 2020 face masks became symbolic of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of yesterday, face masks became representative of another disaster when thousands of them began washing ashore on NSW Central Coast and Sydney beaches.
The face masks were inside one of forty shipping containers that fell off the Singapore-flagged APL England while en route from Ningbo, China, to Melbourne. On Sunday, the ship hit rough weather 73 kms south-east of Sydney, destabilising its load.
Yesterday, containers reached shore on the Central Coast, washing up at Birdie Beach on the Central Coast.
Julius Gibson from the nearby suburb of Halekulani was walking along the beach when he stumbled across the twisted metal. He told the ABC he was concerned about the environmental impacts the shipping accident would have.
"Seeing all the foam and random masks and stuff along the beach really isn't ideal for the environment," said an understated Gibson.
The ship's cargo manifest included building supplies, medical equipment, and aircraft seats.
Meanwhile in Sydney, Randwick Council had to close many beaches yesterday due to surgical face masks, plastic takeaway containers, and air-conditioning ducts washing ashore.
NSW Maritime's Alex Barrell said it was, "too early at the moment to estimate the cost of this clean-up".
"This really does have some serious environmental impacts and that's why we're taking the clean-up so seriously," Mr Barrell said.
Council rangers and residents have been clearing beaches in the Randwick council area, while authorities said debris could continue to wash up for several days. Surfers have been warned about larger submerged items still being in the ocean.
Volunteers from environmental group Australian Seabird Rescue are assisting in the clean-up, and branch coordinator Cathy Gilmore told the ABC animals are being exposed to dangerous material.
"It's not going to biodegrade, it's going to stay there for such a long time," she said. "These animals out in the ocean are going to choose to eat a lot of it as food. They don't realise that what the ocean is providing isn't good for them."
In total 73 containers were damaged in the incident. The cargo ship docked in Brisbane and will be investigated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to determine whether the containers were properly stacked and secured, and if any environmental regulations have been breached.
This is not the first incident involving container losses from the APL England, after it lost 37 containers in the Great Australian Bight in August 2016 due to heavy rolling in rough seas.