This week I am participating in a research project on North Stradbroke island to collect data about marine debris.
Read on for all the info on the TeachWild project.
Day One-Travelling to North Stradbroke Island
On Sunday I flew to Brisbane and then spent two hours on the train trip south to Cleveland, where the ferry departs for North Stradbroke Island.
I met up with 6 other teachers from Melbourne, Adelaide and Tasmania, a Park Ranger from Phillip Island and the organiser from Earthwatch who is coordinating our project.
Cleveland is situated on Moreton Bay so as you would expect there are lots of Moreton Bay fig trees of great size like this one.
This morning we were up bright and early for breakfast at the ferry terminal at 7.15am after which we drove onto the ferry for the 40 minute trip. This ferry is nothing like the Queenscliff/Sorrento ferry. This is your open air vehicle only style ferry. We had to remain in the minibus as there was nowhere else to go.
Here is a view as we left:
When we arrived on the Island we set off, after morning tea, in the Troop carrier to collect data on the recent beaching of many dead or dying birds. Our four wheel drive drove from the north of the beach for 30kms as we counted and recorded how many birds were washed up on the beach. This was one of the birds:
The scientists will perform a necropsy (look up in the dictionary) to determine the cause of death.
On the way back down the beach we became bogged in the sand and all had to get out so the vehicle could get up the sand dune!!
In the afternoon all the teachers assisted in the necropsy of two turtles who had died.
By looking at all the different parts of the turtle the scientists can work out what the probable cause of death was. If they accumulate enough data they might be able to suggest something that will help turtles in the future. One of the turtles probably died of starvation due to the floods in Queensland, the other had a papilloma virus and pneumonia.
Tomorrow we will be conducting beach surveys of the rubbish that is on the beaches.
After breakfast looking out at this view:
We packed up in beautiful sunny weather and headed off in the mini van for our first beach survey. This is to gather data for the Teachwild project which all the grade 5/6 students will be helping with. We hadn’t gone far when the rain started pouring down. We headed to the main beach on th east side of the island. After waiting for the rain to ease we selected a transect of the beach 50 metres along from the path. The group stretched the measuring tape across the beach and recorded our position (latitude and longtitude) as well as conditions on the beach and in the water. We were collecting and recording rubbish one metre each side of the tape for this transect. Two people walked down each side of the tape as I recorded any rubbish found on the data sheet. This data will be added to the national data base and helps scientists to correlate data on plastics found inside birds and animals in the area.
We returned early as the rain then poured down making visibility difficult!! We will return to the beach another day to survey more of the beach.
Our group then went into the lab to help with identifying the colour spectrums of rubbish located in the stomach or intestines of dead sea turtles (this is called spectrophotometry). Collecting this data and analysing it helps scientists to discover what sort of rubbish sea turtles eat. Some of the questions scientists are trying to answer are:
Are the turtles eating plastic because:
- It looks like food?
- It stands out in colour?
- They will eat anything?
The plastics found in the turtle were mostly soft plastics(plastic bag fragments) but also black plastic and natural coloured plastic string. It is believed turtles eat plastic bags as they look like their normal food of jellyfish.
Half of the teachers went out in the boat in the morning to trawl the surface of the water. These samples were then studied by all the teachers for minute particles of debris using sieves and microscopes. We discovered several small pieces of hard plastic, plastic string and rope and pieces of balloons.
A special visitor, Heidi, came today to help out and also to tell us about her projects with schools for the Tangaroa Blue Ocean Care Organisation. This group works with the Marine Studies Centre in Queenscliff to collect data that will help them work out why rubbish ends up in the ocean. They then try to find a solution that will reduce that type of rubbish.
Tomorrow we continue to investigate why animals are found dead washed up on the beach by doing necropsies on the sea birds we found on Day 1.
This morning we all took part in necropsies of birds that had washed up dead on the beach. Our first bird had lots of hard plastic pieces in it’s stomach. The second had some large pieces of debris that looked like plastic coated electrical wire. These pieces will all be studied under microscopes to check what they really are made of.
In the afternoon our group went out in the rubber boat to trawl for marine debris. it was perfect weather and beautiful out on the bay. We used a long net which trawled behind the boat on the surface of the water for 30 minutes each time. The material we collected will be sifted for debris that could be harmful to the wildlife and in particular to sea turtles.
On the way back to shore we sighted some dolphins playing in the water.
Tomorrrow we are back to the beach for a survey of marine debris.
This morning we headed off to to Flinders Beach to conduct a beach survey. These surveys are conducted on the beaches here each month and all the data is collected and entered onto the database. Our team surveyed 3 transects and then did an ‘emu bob’ of an area 50 metres x 40 metres.
When we returned to the research station we sorted all the rubbish we had found into different sizes and recorded how much we found of each type of rubbish. This will be added to the database tonight.
After lunch we were back to performing necropsies on the seabirds that had washed up on the beach. On the first two birds we did not find anything unusual in the gut of the birds. However on our third muttonbird we found a large piece of balloon, a plastic bead and other pieces of rubbish in the gut. Our fourth bird had small pieces of hard plastic in it’s gut. However the scientists do not think that just eating plastic would necessarily have killed the birds, there may have been other factors. One of our birds had a wound on it’s chest and had been bleeding .
All of the data we are collecting here will help the scientists to work out why so many sea birds and animals are dying.
You would love the fish tank we have here in our lab as we are typing away on our blogs and putting data into the database. The fish are asleep at the moment but there is Nemo and Dory as well as lots of other fish. I will try to get some good pictures in the morning to put on the blog.
This morning we had to be at the Main Beach at 7.30am to set up for our last beach survey. Both teams had to complete two transects each and then an Emu Bob for a 40 metre square area. In the emu bob everyone walks in a line down the beach one metre apart and picks up any rubbish they find. Solme of the pieces of hard plastic are quite small, we found nearly four hundred pieces of hard plastic that were about 1 cm. We were joined at the beach by a film crew who were here to film us all day for CSIRO. For each transect we need to write down all sorts of information about the beach. Here below is Andrew checking our position, latitude and longtitude on the GPS.
This is a picture of the transect at the finish. I have recorded each piece of rubbish found on the data sheet.
Some of the rubbish we found included this red balloon and a glow stick. Later in the day we found one of the smaller glowsticks in the stomach of a bird that had died. Fishermen use the glow sticks to mark their lines. Unfortunately thousands of them end up in the sea and are eaten by seas birds and fish.
We then headed out on the boat to do a trawl and once again the film crew came along.
After lunch we needed to finish off all the classification and recording of data for the week. Some items were so small we needed to use microscopes to see what they were.
Then all the pieces needed to be classified according to size and colour and recorded on the database.
To finish up the week we had a very informative and amazing lecture from Dr Kathy Townsend on the efffects of humans and marine debris on sea turtles. Moreton Bay is an important feeding and breeding spot for these turtles. It was very sad to hear that many of the turtle eggs and turtle hatchlings are squashed by 4 wheel drives driving up and down the beach.
We will all be very sad to leave tomorrow as we have such a fantastic week and learnt so much from the scientists working here at Moreton bay Research Station. Thankyou CSIRO, Earthwatch and all the crew at MBRS.