Queensland Ocean Crusader volunteers fight a losing battle in ‘phenomenal’ flood debris clean up

Seven months on from February’s flood disaster, conservation group Ocean Crusaders is still cleaning up tonnes of debris from south-east Queensland riverbanks.

It says greater investment is needed from all levels of government.

Ian and Annika Thomson founded the non-profit foundation 12 years ago to remove marine waste from the environment to protect flora and fauna.

Mr Thomson feels like they are fighting a losing battle.

“Our biggest year previously, we manually picked 160 tonnes of rubbish out of the banks. This year, we’ve already cracked through 210 tonnes, and we’ve got three months to go,” he said.

“The amount of rubbish out the west side of the Brisbane River is phenomenal, we’re picking out 1.2 to 1.3 tonnes a day still.”

Bag of marine waste in the air in Ocean Crusader clean up
Bags weighing 300 kilograms of marine waste taken from the Logan River destined for a nearby dump site.(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

The Thomsons are the only two full-time Ocean Crusader employees, alongside one part-time worker.

“We’ve been cleaning five days a week, every week, so we’re extremely tired. But we’ve got to do the job. It’s for our nature, it’s for our wildlife,” Mr Thomson said.

“We had a bit of rain at the end of last week, and the streets empty back out again into the middle of the river and whilst we usually clean the banks, the stuff that was in the middle, the navigation hazards, were just phenomenal .

“You’re sitting there you’re trying to clean and it’s just coming back time and time again.”

Politicians ‘sitting in their offices’ as disaster unfolds

Mr Thomson said fighting between different levels of government regarding who was responsible for the clean-up of various areas was incredibly frustrating.

“I’d love to take every single politician out for a day where we play, we’re playing in waist-deep water, in deep mud, trying to pull this stuff out to protect our environment.

“They’re sitting in their offices making decisions. If they came out for one day, or if they saw a turtle that I picked up that had a plastic bag coming out of their anus, they would change their mind immediately and then they would actually understand our predicament.”

Ian Thomson
Ocean Crusader’s Ian Thomson says there needs to be permanent government funding to fight marine pollution.(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

The Australian and Queensland governments recently announced almost $30 million investment to help environmental recovery in areas across the state impacted by recent floods.

Environment and natural resource management groups were able to apply for a large share of funding, with nearly $23 million on the table for locally-led riverine recovery projects.

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the task to restore our damaged rivers and riverbanks had only just begun.

“This funding will help local groups, who know their areas, to plan and restore their local environments,” Ms Scanlon said.

“They’re available for natural resource management groups, eligible First Nations corporations and bulk water supply utilities to assess the environmental impacts of the floods and plan reconstruction works.”

A boat on a logan river.
Volunteers removed nearly a tonne of rubbish and flood debris from the Logan River.(ABC News: Alex Brewster)

In a statement, the Logan City Council spokesperson said it had contracted organization Healthy Land and Water to undertake a monthly clean-up of bank-bound and in-water floating debris until July 2025.

But Mr Thomson said the organization needed to clean up more regularly than once a month.

“There’s so much more work to do. It’s going to take years to clean up after this and we’ve got another wet season coming so there needs to be permanent funding.”

‘This is our problem’

A group of about 50 Ocean Crusader volunteers spent their Sunday morning cleaning poly fiber that was choking mangroves on the banks of the Logan River.

The debris was washed up at the site in the 2013 floods and has been pushed further into the environment with each flood since.

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