Mackillop College

Teachwild September 2012 – 7 days on Stradbroke Island.

Mon 24/9

What I learnt today…

Booking the early flight is always a good policy; fog in Coolangatta delays arrival of the plane for my morning flight by 40 mins. Then the same plane must circle above Brisbane for 30 mins to allow the back up of planes to land…a little bit of fog can go a loooong way. I only just make it to the Cleveland Ferry terminal for the rendezvous with the Teachwild 2012 team.

Having a good book to lose yourself in while travelling is such a good idea…Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi about an artificial intelligence that believes it is a God…could artificial intelligence become a conduit for divine communication and intervention? Interesting concepts.

The MBRS (Moreton Bay Research Station) has an uber-awesome tropical saltwater aquarium with amazing soft corals and massive sea anemones clown fish buddies hanging out as well as other beautiful fish and sea slugs. So clean and well maintained as well.

We begin our time together with an introduction to the National Marine Debris Survey by Denise Hardesty, the leading Scientist on this study. It is interesting to note that globally from all the voluntary data collected, that cigarette butts are the largest total volume of debris collected. I guess those that enjoy polluting their own lungs and find it hard to take responsibility for their own health are not going to care much about responsibility for the planet around them either…yeah harsh but…hmmm.

We have a delicious feed of Pizza for the first night and get sorted into our working groups and quarters for sleeping.

The Teachwild crew Sept 2012The Teachwild crew Sept 2012















Tuesday 25/9

The birds and the light of the day wake most of us up early. Some locals are already up and walking the first light of day. A good practice of Chen Tai Ji before brekkie overlooking the bay in front of our accommodation gets my day going…not a bad start.

The bay in front

Unfortunately they do not rotate or spin.


We head off to begin the beach survey and pass by a very cool looking play equipment in the local park.






 Beach Survey

The aim of the game is to be able to measure and compare the  debris data collected from as many beaches around Australia as possible -  a first for any nation in the whole world.

How is this achieved you might think. The answer is in a succinct, easy to fill in data entry form identifying specific variables that are used to define a beach. Stuff like aspect (direction it faces), substrate, access points, backshore description to name a few. Then the weather is noted.

Next is putting into place controlled methods of completing the transect surveys, to ensure a consistent approach is used everywhere around the nation – where to begin your transect on the beach, width of transect, even how you are able to identify the debris on the beach (only from walking height, no searching while crouching over!!).

Transect surveying

Debris spotted from standing, collected and recorded










Data is written onto the sheet the whole time at each step of the process. This data sheet then gets entered into the National Database later on so that it can be analysed and compared to different locations around Australia.

Sorting debris into size classes





Back at the MBRS the debris is sorted into size classes and this data is recorded.







Then a random sample of 50 items is collected plus 15 outliers (debris significantly different to the random 50 selected) are spectrally analysed to measure its photometric reflectivity and create a digital signature representing this.


Laser at left picks up reflective data and the computer shows the wavelengths!




This digitises the wavelengths of light being reflected from each piece of debris.





This reflective signature can be compared to the digital signatures of debris that has been found in necropsies of marine creatures. The reason for this comparison is to get an understanding of whether the debris being found on beaches is representative of the debris that marine creatures are eating.

Debris from turtle necropsy

This conversion to a digital reflectivity signature is important to record because the way marine creatures see the world is different to us due to the nature of the light receptors in their eyes.

We could find answers to questions such as: Is there is a reason certain bits of marine debris are being eaten by creatures over others and why? What management practices can be implemented to help reduce certain types of debris to help reduce the impact on the marine creatures of course?

After our work in the lab our group had to make dinner for everyone. We had been suggested to make a stir fry. After much cutting and cooking a chicken and vegetable or tofu and vegetable stir fry was enjoyed by all – we did not get voted off the island…smiles all round.

After dinner it was time to try and put a tune that had been going on in my head all day onto a guitar (gratefully borrowed from Kathy - sea turtle expert – at MBRS). Successfully and gleefully acheived, a new song is born for Play Fish Play!!

I then began my long and frustrating “learning to create my Blog” process. This new technology (for me) was hard to figure out. New formatting protocols, and navigation commands left me with the loss of about an hours work. Frustrated, I pulled up stumps and retreated into my novel, looking forward to the promise of a trip to the beach at 5.30am in the morning!

Wednesday 26/9

Mornings are easy to wake up on this trip. Away we go to Point Lookout to see what waves await. Main beach is a choppy boiling mess of rips and random peaks – not inviting. We go back to Cylinders beach, which on first look is not inviting either. It takes fellow volunteer Allan to get a wave (he was keen as mustard to get into it) to convince me it was worth a paddle. To my suprise, Trevor our another co-volunteer has brought his camera and is taking snaps from the shore of our endeavours. This is pretty cool as the pictures make small junky lumps of waves look kind of good. Thanks a lot to Trevor. His first time ever taking surf shots. I reckon he did a pretty good job.








Not being someone who has had many photos taken of themselves surfing, I am pretty   stoked with what can be captured in one to two foot slop. This one below was my best turn of the session and as luck would have it Trevor got it on film…RESULT!!


Although the session was small in wave quality, it was big on comfort and beauty.

To quote my surf buddy Allan…it was a warm happy place (we are from Tassie and Vicco – cold water surf brethren loving the warm Qld waters).







After a tasty breakfast our group was heading out on the MBRS Glaucus research vessel to undertake trawl sampling. As you can see from the pics above it was a warm calm day. So…trawling - whats it all about and how is the data treated?


Trawling for marine debris:

Once the site for the trawl is arrived at, the first thing to do is to read the flow meter data and record it, then put the trawl apparatus (called a Manta tow) into the water.

Recording data at site location

The flow meter - analogue technology still doing its job













The Manta tow is put off the lee side of the boat (so the wind does not blow the trawl into the boat).

Manta tow in action

Zoe hard at work





A carefully structured data sheet is again used to standardise the data and make it comparable to other locations – GPS position of start and finish is recorded plus weather data.





Getting the flow rate data









The time of trawl is always 30 mins and the rate of flow of water through the net is recorded with a flow meter. This allows a measure of the volume of water that has passed through the net mouth to be calculated (flow rate = volume per time, so volume =flow rate x time).

The number of pieces of plastic per unit volume of water can then be calculated for each trawl. This standardizes the measurements made and allows different sites to be compared using the ratio of plastics per unit volume of water.

Getting the Manta tow back into the boat

The catch net at the bottom of the Manta tow where all the debris goes




Getting the debris out of the net can be a tricky procedure as the debris and weed can stick to the net. It needs encouragement to get it into the labelled “baggie”.

removing catch net from Manta tow

The trawl Baggie labelled and ready









Turning plastic debris into data.

From the trawl debris, the collected Baggie is then emptied into a bucket.

Searching through soaked trawl samples, labelled petri dishes awaiting debris



This is because of  buoyancy property of plastic. The buckets are then scanned with eyes and tweezers used to pick out identifiable pieces of plastic floating on the surface.

Local Moreton Bay Jelly fish with Allan


The bucket is then emptied out through two different grade sieves and the debris picked out again and placed into a petri dish.





Sometimes a few suprises come up that make your day that little bit special











These tiny tiny pieces are then observed under a microscope and measured to the nearest hundredth of a mm using digital caliper. The pieces are placed in an aluminum satchel then labelled with the trawl number, surveyor name and date. All the information is then recorded onto a data sheet and then loaded onto the database.

Searching for debris at the microscopic level

Recording size data into a data sheet



Measuring the dimensions of debris












The rest of the trip was awesome every day.

Thursday began with another trip over to the point lookout side of the island. As a group the decision was made to go to Cylinders beach for a swim. A great stroll along Deadmans beach to the headland dune system revealed some surfing dolphins diving out of the swell lines and a good wind for Main beach. A bit of capoeira on the beach followed by a swim rounded off the morning. Back for breakfast and off to complete our second beach survey this time at Home beach. There were camels on the beach which was cool.
We completed this as quickly as possible as Denise said if we did so there would be time for us all to have a swim (this translated into a good surf session for me and Allan). After lunch the afternoon was taken up with data entry of our transect data. When the day was just about finished, a stranding of 56 Stingrays occurred. Being at a Marine research station, that meant all hands on deck to dissect and take tissue samples from each creature. This finished by about 11pm.

Friday was a repeat morning of getting some waves at Main Beach. Again super stoked. The day was taken up with making this blog…again a frustrating day of troubles and successes…I nearly gave up when I lost three hours of work. The redemption factor was discovering a previous saved version which gave me my wind back. I am glad I did not give up despite being really really upset.

Saturday morning rounded up our morning surf sessions…sooo good! We then took part in a turtle necropsy of two Green turtles. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Thanks for reading!