Day 1: Turtles 101
Early Thursday morning Andrew and I greeted 12 enthusiastic Griffith University students at Dunwich water taxi terminal to embark on the first ever Moreton Bay Marine Wildlife Conservation Project. To be honest, I am not sure any of us knew exactly what the next few days would bring – anticipation was certainly in the air.
First up, we headed to the rather impressive Moreton Bay Research Station, which was a buzz with next generation scientists. After introductions, the day kicked off with a crash course in marine turtle biology and ecology from Dr Kathy Townsend and some rather confronting footage regarding the impacts of marine debris on our oceans and its inhabitants. Then to the surprise of most student was the turtle necropsies where we had to get hands on to investigate the cause of death of 3 stranded marine turtles. Despite being an activity not for the fainthearted, it was remarkably informative, we all got to learn so much about the anatomy of turtles and how it effects their biology, behaviour and conservation. The most interesting find was the long spines they have in their throat to help them swallow their prey – whilst good for feeding, this adaptation is really bad for regurgitating any plastic that they may ingest by mistake!
As afternoon grew upon us all too quickly we headed out to a nearby beach to learn the accurate survey technique for collecting a representative sample of marine debris. Despite the slightly changeable weather, it was certainly worth the effort, finding fish hooks and lines and numerous bottles. Also invaluable to learn the right collecting technique and knowing we were helping contribute to national database to help tackle this issue head on. Later that evening the importance of our work was really validated whilst we watched a movie called Bag it - is your life too plastic – a hilarious and yet informative and inspirational movie how to reduce your plastic use! Check it out on http://www.bagitmovie.com/ it’s a must see!
Day 2: Picking up what ‘you’ are putting down
Marine debris here we come! The students very diplomatically divided themselves into two groups. My group hit the Flinders beach for the morning session, the scenery was stunning, this exposed beach stretches over 4kms! However, upon closer inspection and as we started looking carefully for marine debris, things were very different– their were quite a few cigarette butts and very fine broken pieces of plastic rather than large specific objects.
After a fantastic lunch back at the research station – my group was set to hit the waves! With a slight wind chop, the boat trip out into the bay was far from a dry experience but lots of fun nevertheless. The purpose of the trip was to tow a specialised net through various locations in the bay to sample and analyse for micro-plastics. The kind of plastic contamination that you cannot see with the naked eye! The highlight of this trip particularly for me was seeing a pod of Indo-pacific humpback dolphins coming to say hi! These dolphins were extra special to see – as they are very threatened here in Australia – particularly by coastal development. On the way back to shore – there was slightly flutter of the heart as we had a couple of boat engine issues –but that just added to the adventure!
Day 3: Unexpected visitors
Another early start and weather anyone’s guess! One moment glorious sunshine the next torrential rain, however this wasn’t going to get in the way of another day actively cleaning up Moreton Bay waterways! This time my group were off on boat for the morning. We managed to avoid the threatening rain clouds and headed over to Peel Island on a slightly more comfortable bigger boat! This time as we towed the net through a current line and everyone had a turn scribing and launching the tow. Later we were pleasantly surprised by a pod of bottlenose dolphins feeding close by and just as I was being asked about how many sharks were in bay – sure enough one baby shark popped up!! Quite an unusual sighting that’s for sure! It moved so fast and was too little to really tell what species it was – but very awesome to see.
Back to base and it was all about data entry before lunch. Making sure that all the information we were gathering was recorded correctly so that it can be analysed as part of the National Marine Debris Database (http://www.ala.org.au/blogs-news/teachwild-national-marine-debris-portal/). This database will help us determine sources of marine debris, where it tends to end up and the extent of the problem. Part of the survey work might also help us determine whether turtles are actually attracted to a plastic of a specific colour or not.
As night fell it was time to brush up on those all important UNO skills!
Day 4: Look Out!!
Today was our fun day, a reward for all the previous days hard work! Morning activities included learning about from Matt all about local traditional knowledge of the area and the Quandamooka people. Not only did we learn about the history of the Island and their local traditions it was amazing to learn all medicinal properties and uses of the plants and foliage that we walked past everyday, barely noticing or respecting. The uses varied from curing rashes, soothing bites and upset stomachs to generating soap. Overall another reason to make sure we protect our biodiversity as much as possible. We also learnt how to throw a boomerang and a spear properly, there were plenty of ‘look out’ moments and near misses but all fun and games!
Then it was off to another type of ‘look out’ Point lookout for ice cream and the gorge walk! The Sun decided to grace us with its presence and view of the gorge and the ocean was just amazing. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing on cylinders beach, a few of the crew braved the waves whilst the others played footy. I think I can speak on behalf of all of us that the innate beauty of the place and what the we learnt on the project – made us all realise how important it is for us to respect the environment and what we can all do as individuals to ensure it stays that way.