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Exclusive: Far North Queensland’s plastic pollution crisis exposed in new documentary

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Approximately one ton of plastic debris can be found for every kilometre of coastline in Far North Queensland.

That’s the stunning statistic in a new documentary - “Protecting Paradise” - put together by National Geographic, non-for-profit Parley for the Oceans and Corona which for the first time looks at the extent of plastic pollution on Australia’s beaches.   

“We saw gorgeous white sand, aqua blue water, amazingly healthy coral, yet as soon as we stepped on some of these beaches and went a few metres up the sand it was completely covered in plastic,” marine biologist Laura Wells told  

“There were multitudes of plastic. Water bottles, thongs, commercial fishing gear, toothbrushes, lots of microplastics - you name it.

“We found plastic on every island we went to. We also did microplastic trawling and found plastic in the ocean too. The plastic is throughout the entire ocean column – the sea surface, the seafloor.”

Corona, Parley for the Oceans and National Geographic teamed up with a range of ocean conservationists and scientists, including Wells, to conduct the first fact-finding mission in Far North Queensland.

In May 2017 Corona joined forces with Parley for the Oceans - a non-government organisation dedicated to finding solutions for what can easily now be categorised as a problem of epidemic proportions.

Nine million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans each year.

“Once plastic enters the ocean it begins to break down to smaller and smaller pieces and becomes microplastic, most pieces are less than 5mm in diameter,” Wells said.

“It can also become nanoplastic, which is plastic we can’t see with the naked eye. It takes a lot more manpower to clean, and at the moment we don’t really have that technology to remove it from the environment.”

National Geographic’s Kael Hudson said Australians were largely unaware of the extent of the problem.

“According to research commissioned by Corona, three quarters of Australians underestimate or have no idea about how much plastic is entering Australia’s ocean,” he said.

“However, findings show that when confronted with the amount of plastic entering our waterways, 89 per cent said they will make an effort to reduce their usage of single use plastic.”

To bring greater awareness to the issue and encourage people to reduce single-use plastic consumption in their everyday lives, Corona and Parley have announced a national beach clean-up and educational series called, Volunteers for the Ocean.

Volunteers for the Ocean will cover 16 beaches across NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Northern Territory, and is designed to encourage Australians to take action against plastic pollution on their local beaches and waterways.

“Our research shows that many Aussies feel helpless as individuals when it comes to making an impact on this incredibly large global plastic pollution issue,” Corona’s local marketing manager Andy Vance told

“But when given the opportunity to come together as a community, they feel a sense of power to take action and make a real difference.

“We’re hoping through our partnership with Parley and Volunteers for the Ocean, we can make Aussies aware of the very real threat that is risking the health of our own shorelines and marine life, and provide them with a platform to be a catalyst of change to Australia’s marine plastic pollution.”

Evan Ellman, Corona’s Better World Director, told he hopes the clean-ups will help Australians realise the extent of the plastic pollution issue.

“I would say that everyone should try to participate in a clean-up because that is best way to really understand the impact of our plastic usage,” he said.

“I could tell everyone to eliminate at least one plastic item from their lives and I hope they do, but I truly believe that this is the inevitable conclusion for anyone who attends a clean-up.”

National Geographic will be premiering the Corona x Parley “Protecting Paradise” documentary at 8.30pm on January 27.

The full-length documentary will be made available on the National Geographic website from January 29.


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