What did we find during September’s International Coastal Cleanup efforts to cleanup our beaches and waterways?

Read on to find out!

Summary of the International Coastal Cleanup 2023

This September, 36 volunteers (18 men and 18 women) joined the global effort for the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, removing marine debris from the ocean, beaches, rivers, and lagoons. VESS organised a cleanup event at Ifira Point, and an underwater cleanup was also organised by VESS and Big Blue Dive Vanuatu, as a Dive Against Debris event. Other organisations also arranged their own cleanup events, including Vanuatu Ecotours and Nabanga Pikinini. A total of 2,743 littered items were collected at Ifira Point, Eton beach, Rentapao river, Second lagoon and Port Vila Seafront. This ICC event is part of VESS’s environmental awareness program, and funding for supplies was provided by Vanuatu Climate Action Network. 

In addition, the VESS team were completing field work in the remote Torres Islands during September and conducted a coastal litter count, recording a total of 2,533 marine debris items across 2 sandy beaches and 1 rocky coastline. In Efate and Torres Islands, although some of the items were similar, there was not as much diversity of litter in Torres. Interestingly, in Torres, most of the litter counted consisted of floating foreign items that are washed up on the beach, while in Efate, a higher number of items originated from local sources.

About the International Coastal Cleanup

For decades, volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have removed millions of kilograms of rubbish from our oceans, beaches and waterways every year in September. They not only pick up rubbish but count every item as well. The resulting item-by-item, location-by-location Ocean Trash Index provides the only global snapshot of the ocean trash littering the world’s coasts and waterways. For the last eight years Vanuatu has participated in the ICC, coordinated by Vanuatu Environmental Science Society. The data collected has contributed to policy in Vanuatu including the ban on single use plastics, established by the government in 2018 and 2019

Efate cleanup events

The VESS cleanup on 14th of September at Ifira Point was attended by a range of volunteers including diplomats, OXFAM officers and Vanuatu Climate Action Network members.

The Vanuatu Ecotours team also carried out cleanups and data collection at Eton beach and Rentapao river. Nambanga Pikinini collected rubbish on the edge of the second lagoon.

Below is the list of top ten litter items collected from four sites on Efate: Ifira Point, Eton, Rentapao and Second Lagoon. Note that glass and plastic fragments were not included in the top 10 items as they are usually pieces of the other items.

Most of the top ten items were the same as in previous years with plastic bottles and plastic food wrappers topping the list. However, in recent years we have seen more re-usable shopping bags and juice and milk boxes in the litter data.

Litter ItemsQuantity
Plastic drink bottles411
Plastic food wrappers398
Aluminum drink cans232
Glass bottles / jars168
Plastic packaging (non-food)138
Plastic caps and lids104
Cardboard / bamboo takeaway box61
Juice & milk boxes57
Reusable shopping bags49

Underwater cleanup at the Port Vila Seafront, Efate Island

The underwater cleanup for scuba divers was organized in conjunction with Big Blue Dive, and was carried out on the Seafront in Port Vila Harbour.

The top 10 litter items collected in the underwater cleanup are listed in the table below.

Litter ItemsQuantity
Glass bottles89
Aluminium drink cans86
Plastic food wrappers41
Bricks, cinderblocks, chunks of cement19
Plastic drink bottles14
Shoes, flipflops and sandals14
Appliances and electronic devises8
Cans (food and juice)4
Fishing line4

Torres Islands litter surveys

Below is the list of top ten litter items collected from three sites in Torres Islands: Yawas and Yukavigamena (both on Hiu Island), and Lunghariki (Loh Island). Note that glass and plastic fragments were not included in the top 10 items.

In Torres, plastic fragments were the most commonly recorded item (1097). From our calculations of a beach surveyed in Torres, we concluded that there are 1.15 pieces of microplastics within each square meter of the beach. However, this result is likely to be underestimated as some plastic pieces were buried in the sand, or not easily visible.

Litter ItemsQuantity
Plastic caps and lids588
Plastic drink bottles251
Plastic packaging (non-food)142
Other plastic bottles / jars (oil, shampoo)60
Tins cans12
Cigarette lighter8
Fishing floats and buoys8
Plastic food wrappers7


VESS is grateful for the many volunteers who braved the wet weather to collect litter and data to help understand reduce the problem of waste in our oceans. Each year of data collection contributes to a picture of what items are increasing and decreasing in Vanuatu and leads to solutions to waste issues.

Further detailed data for each of the cleanup locations is listed in the Appendices for the report which can be found here