By James Redmayne

SYDNEY, March 5 – It’s a weekend morning on Australia’s east coast and beach-goers are snorkelling in the warm, blue water.

This would be a typical sight, except for the fact that about 50 snorkellers are collecting plastic waste from the water, including straws, plastic bags and discarded fishing lines.

The conservation effort this month by the so-called strawklers is part of Operation Straw, founded by resident Harriet Spark at the end of 2017, which aims to eliminate plastic straws from the sea around Sydney.

Spark was inspired to start the project when she noticed hundreds of bits of plastic in the water at Manly Cove, just north of Sydney, while she was diving.

A video she filmed of an octopus clutching at straws only spurred her efforts and soon the popularity of strawkling surged.

“I think it’s because it’s such a feel-good activity to be able to get in and do something about the problems facing the world,” she said.

“There’s so much doom and gloom out there for good reason, but when a community can come together and actually take action, it’s really powerful.”

Globally, eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, according to the U.N. Environment Programme, affecting marine life and clogging waterways.

Spark said Australians use about 10 million straws a day, and people were still genuinely shocked to discover how many of them, along with plastic bags, bottles and takeaway coffee cups end up in the ocean.

In the Australian summer of 2018, the strawklers collected more than 2,500 straws from Manly Cove.

Their community work is not limited to collecting the rubbish after it’s been tossed out – they’re trying to head it off at source.

Spark and the strawkling volunteers, in collaboration with other organisations, have persuaded more than 40 businesses in the Manly area to stop using plastic straws.

“We believe in living in harmony with the environment,” said Ryan Carmo, manager at Hugos Manly Restaurant, one of the beachside establishments that has given up the straws. (Reporting and Writing by James Redmayne, Editing by Karishma Singh and)

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