Taking steps to make a difference

Published 6:00am 13 February 2024

Taking steps to make a difference
Words by Nadia Chapman

Since 2015, Redcliffe local Ian Sutherland has taken matters into his own hands to help preserve the ecosystem, one walk at a time.

After moving to Scarborough with his wife in 2012, Ian started walking every day for exercise and relaxation along some of Redcliffe’s most popular beaches.

During a trip to Sea Life on the Sunshine Coast, Ian realised how important it was to protect precious sea life from deadly plastics entering oceans.

“I had a trip up to Mooloolaba one day, and my wife and I went to Sea Life. They had a few green turtles up there that were being rehabilitated, and they were telling us about how dangerous plastics are for these creatures because when the seaweed grows on the plastic, they can’t differentiate it,” Ian says.

“So, I thought ‘you know, if I’m going to walk on the beach, why don’t I do something useful at the same time and pick up some bits and pieces?’

“I’m primarily looking for plastics, but there’s so much other stuff on the beach, it’s unbelievable. I carry one of those reusable plastic bags, and some days they will be full, other days there will be hardly anything in them – it just depends.

“I was reading something just this morning that said, ‘the only thing you should leave on the beach is your footprint’, and I totally understand. People ask me what I collect, and I say, ‘anything that shouldn’t be here’.”

Ian wakes up at 4.30am every day and walks along the tideline to pick up litter, at one of three beaches – Scarborough Beach, Queens Beach and Queens Beach North – which span 4kms.

“I love getting up early in the morning and going for a walk. To me, it’s the best time of the day,” Ian says.

“Cleaning the beaches meets a lot of objectives, but primarily, I’m doing it for the environment and I’m doing it for my grandsons.

“It’s not something I’ll see, but I know if people don’t do it now, future generations won’t see the things or experience the things that we enjoy.”

When asked if he has noticed any changes to the ecosystem in the past eight years, Ian says he believes ‘his’ beaches have improved, but it’s hard to say overall.

“I think my beaches have gotten better. In fact, I got a complaint after one Clean Up Australia Day saying that there’s nothing to pick up because I’ve been picking it all up,” Ian laughs.

Surprising results

As treasurer of the Rotary Club of Redcliffe Sunrise, Ian and fellow club member Colin Scobie started an audit in July 2023. Every day in July, Ian picked up litter and then sorted it into 12 categories against the Tangaroa Blue Marine Debris Data Collection form.

“For one month every day, we picked up litter and kept it in bins, so I had a bin full of rubbish that weighed 12kg. That’s unbelievable, isn’t it? We thought we’d do that each year and just see what happens,” Ian says.

Ian has noticed locals starting to pick up rubbish too.

“What I first started noticing on occasion is if I was picking stuff up on the beach, there would be a group of ladies walk past saying, ‘keep up the good work, you’re doing a great job’ and I felt like saying ‘if you get a plastic bag, you can help,’” Ian laughs.

“But I have seen other people picking stuff up, and maybe that’s because they’ve seen me, I don’t know. But being out there and doing it is the best way to advertise it.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer to take a plastic bag with you when you go down to the beach and pick up rubbish. It’s about looking to the future, not just for the moment, but looking ahead 20 or 30 years and saying, ‘are these green turtles still going to be here?’”

Ian doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon and encourages locals to get involved.

“If you’ve got an inclination, take a plastic bag the next time you go down to the beach, and if you see any rubbish, just pick it up; you’ll be helping,” he says.

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