Working together to target the source of marine debris and litter

Cleaning up litter to protect our beloved Port Phillip ‘Bae’.

Project information

  • Name: Working together to target the source of marine debris and litter
  • Lead: Tangaroa Blue Foundation Ltd
  • Location: Port Phillip and surrounding suburbs
  • Partners: City of Port Phillip, Kingston City Council, Wyndham City Council, Hobsons Bay City Council, City of Melbourne, City of Greater Geelong and Bayside City Council
  • Themes: marine debris; source reduction plans; plastics and ocean pollution

Did you know that our beloved Port Phillip Bay (hereafter affectionately known as ‘our Bae’) is not a bay at all? It’s actually a local port area made up of more than 16 bays.

(If you’ve seen the word Bae floating around on social media and always wondered what it meant, it’s a term of endearment towards loved ones – short for ‘babe’. So now you know.)

We all love our Bae – it’s one of the most popular recreational destinations in Victoria and the entrance to Australia's busiest port.

Most people behave respectfully when they visit Bae. They take rubbish home or put it in the bin. What they may not realise is that litter from much further away can travel via drains and rivers and still end up polluting our Bae.

“Ninety-five per cent of marine debris in Port Phillip and the Yarra River comes from land-based sources,” explained Heidi Taylor, Managing Director of Tangaroa Blue Foundation, an Australian not-for-profit working on marine debris prevention and removal.

“Of this, about 75 per cent is plastic. This debris damages marine life, causing injury and even death. It’s also not great for us humans – it has health and safety risks and affects communities financially through tourism and fisheries.

“When we work on marine debris, we tend to focus on cleaning up local beaches, waterways, streets and parks. But we need to go much further. We need to analyse where litter and debris comes from, find the source and then work out how to stop it ending up in our rivers and oceans.”

“Our foundation works on the philosophy that if all we do is clean-up, that’s all we’ll ever do. In other words, prevention is half the battle.”

What we did

“We used funding from Sustainability Victoria to get the community, industry and government involved in reducing litter in their local environment, using source reduction plans (SRPs),” explained Heidi.

“We ran SRP workshops in seven council areas. A total of 199 people attended the workshops from state and local government, clean-up groups, the education sector and schools, youth and environmental organisations, community groups and interested individuals, businesses, associations and industry.

“A Tangaroa Blue facilitator took participants through the SRP process and talked about the current marine debris situation.

“Participants reviewed local litter data and chose one item to target in their SRP, such as cigarette butts, plastic bags, plastic cups and coffee cups.

“Our facilitator talked about current clean-up efforts across the world to give participants ideas for their SRP.

“Participants then set up a working group to continue developing and implementing their SRP."

“Getting each workshop to choose what litter item to target from their local litter data was a good way to give participants ownership over their own projects and a sense of shared responsibility,” added Heidi.

The most valuable aspect of the workshop was the diversity of people in the room. All sectors were extremely well represented and keen to participate and collaborate.

– City of Kingston SRP workshop participant

Tangaroa Blue also provided a small amount of seed funding to help groups get their SRPs off the ground.

“Unfortunately, we did not have enough funding to work with projects from start to finish. Our facilitation role was really important and it would have been to good to keep going with this. However, the idea is that as we progress with this project, participants can work more easily with SRPs without our help.”

Working with SRPs

“SRPs are so good for getting the community involved in litter prevention. Seeing hard data on local litter issues can really catalyse local governments and civic participants to get behind a common cause,” said Heidi. “So, the workshops were a great way to fire people up for action.

“But SRPs can be challenging because they need dedicated teams or groups to implement them. You have to establish early on who’s involved, what they can and will do, and how much time they can commit to the project.

“To support this process at future workshops, we would have them assign a group coordinator on the spot and set a date for the first meeting to take place in less than a month. This would help get projects off the ground more quickly.

“Meeting with councils before the workshops was also crucial. We needed them to get internal approval to run with the SRPs. We also need to know how much time they could commit to the SRP and what litter projects were already under way.

“This project gave us the chance to finetune our approach to facilitating workshops and work out what information is most useful to participants. We also now have some great case studies that we can use at future workshops.”

The last straw

Project partners removed thousands of litter items around Port Phillip Bay and prevented many more from becoming litter in the first place. For example, thanks to the City of Port Phillip’s SRP campaign, ‘The Last Straw’, many cafes have permanently replaced plastic straws with paper.

The City of Greater Geelong wanted to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags entering the local marine environment at Ocean Grove. Their local Coastcare group now has a dedicated plastic-free subcommittee that will continue to work and report on plastic-free activities.

“We’ve built a solid foundation for ongoing projects and activities between communities and councils,” said Heidi.

Future steps

Tangaroa Blue will work with four more councils in early 2018 (Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Borough of Queenscliffe, Frankston City Council and City of Greater Dandenong).

“We will also revisit the first seven SRP groups in the 2018–19 financial year,” said Heidi. "We will look at their progress, help with new or ongoing problem items and share feedback and evaluation from the first set of SRP projects."

“We also want to build an online SRP database so that people can search for case studies on similar issues. Preventing marine debris is our best shot at preserving the bay and our oceans for years to come.”

Further information

Contact Heidi Taylor, Managing Director at Tangaroa Blue Foundation Ltd on 0410 166 684, 
email or visit