Day 5 – Friday
Wow, the last day of a great week of shared learning with a wonderful bunch of teachers and scientists. The five days have absolutely flown by and it has been a wonderful experience – location, people, science and of course marine debris and waste.
This morning the awesome Team Best jagged the morning boat crew run. Absolute still perfection on the water as we ran to the fast survey site. We saw a dugong in the distance and then an unexpected treat as a fur seal pup came into view sunning itself on the calm seas. Kathy Townsend, Research Scientist at the Station and who has been on the island for ten years said it was the first time that she had seen a seal in the bay. We madly took photos and video and the pup rolled around sleepily with one fin resting on its head. It drifted around and then slowly swam off – a very special moment.
This was healthy pup and now it was time to visit our unhealthy turtles to check on their state of decomposition. It was a real mixed bag, the bloated floaters were actually in an OK condition, the fish had begun to lose their stomachs while the other turtles were in varying states of decomposition. Some had lost eyes and there was a lot of whitening and flaking on most body parts. One turtle was badly decomposed with intestines out and basically a formless goopy mess! Another GoPro was set for video and the afternoon run. The experiment is actually taking longer than anticipated and Kathy and Hayley, the honors student will have to continue observations into next week.
We cruised back slowly observing the seal pup frolicking again along with osprey, dolphins, pelicans and turtles. Being such a rare day we headed up the channel over shallow banks while observing the seagrass bottom with turtles passing under the boat. We looked at some hard plate sponges and could not resist anchoring the boat for a refreshing swim.
The afternoon was spent downloading and sharing photos, updating blogs and preparing for the final nights dinner at the delightful Little Ship Club.
So where to…. It has been a real priviledge to be a part of of this Earthwatch/CSIRO TeachWild field trip. Great learning and great company. Being able to work (assist?) alongside working scientists and students has been very rewarding and I have a much greater appreciation of the scientific process, data collection and the hours that go into a research project.
Of course, the main result remains a passion and comittment to fostering a sense of environmental stewardship and awareness among our students and staff. TeachWild offers motivated schools the opportunity to participate in an important marine debris project through providing an authentic learning experience with an important environmental message.
Thanks Geraldine, Denise, Kathy, Lauren, Mel and all the teachers, Jenny, Jane, Flavia, Steve, Leesa, Katie and Deb for a fantastic week!
Day 4 -Thursday
Beautiful one day perfect the next; the old Queensland slogan is holding true this week. We watched the tide roll out over the sand flats and the boats shimmered in the morning sun while we breakfasted. Then it was time for work.
Our group jumped on board the research boat and Kathy skippered us back to the low flow survey area. It was another nice run over the open waters and we soon arrived at the cages.
We started with a few fish which were still in pretty good condition with only some bloating and gelatinous eyes developing. The turtles were a varied bunch. Two were now floating and very bloated, they were however still holding together quite well. Some of the other turtles however were really deteriorating rapidly, carapice and limbs detaching and ribs and internal organs falling out. Again Mel attached the GoPro to get some sample video of what was happening beneath the surface. We moved one cage that had drifted from its GPS points and then made our way back to the research station.
Our team was certainly becoming more efficient and with time to spare we went for a walk through the historic cemetery with graves dating back to the 1850s when a quarantine station functioned on the island. The graveyard was scenically located over looking the bay.
During middle session the whole team joined for an ‘emu survey’ transect on a beach close to the station. Ideally suited to primary students, the emu transect allows the group to move up and down the survey area while collecting debris. We took GPS coordinates and measurements. The team found a lot of rubbish, especially in the grass at the edge of the beach indicating that much of it may have been thrown there over time. As I write other team members are entering that data. Again it was great to Skype to 3/4K and have them ask questions and see what we were doing in real time.
Later in the afternoon our team went to Flinders Beach to conduct more transect surveys. The beach was long and wide and heavily used by 4WD vehicles. We did three transects and an emu survey. The highlight was, by chance, coming across a red-capped plover nest with an egg in it barely a metre from our line. It was only as we got near the nest that we noticed many small footprints and two little red-caps running around in an anxious state. We then saw the egg and quickly moved away. Plovers rely on small sand nesting sites easily accessed by predators such as humans, dogs or foxes. We were all really pleased to see the nesting area but at the same time aware that walkers and their dogs were in close vicinity. The odds of a hatching and survival….???
The end of the day offered a spectacular sunset over the water…
Day 3 – Wednesday
Up early and another beautiful day on Moreton Bay. Our team headed out early to check the turtle and fish traps located in a fast flowing area near the southern parts of the island. Wildlife was in abundance as we saw osprey, dolphins, dugong and a few green turtles while heading to the traps. It felt like a wildlife tour of the waterways!
We arrived at the traps and began hauling in and surveying each of the traps. The turtles had now been in the water for six days and a few were showing major deterioration including a gelatinous body and disintegrating body parts. We moved a couple of close traps and re-recorded the GPS coordinates. Mel set a Go-Pro onto one trap to record video.
I was fortunate enough to Skype back into school and the year 5 class. There were some great questions from the class and again it’s wonderful to be able to bring live science into the classroom. Kathy Townsend the station scientist and boat driver was able to answer some questions such as ‘how old is a juvenile turtle such as those in the traps?’, the answer being around 15-20 years!
During the afternoon we worked in the lab with Lauren and followed on from the bird necropsies done yesterday. We measured and recorded the measurements of plastics found in birds along with the weight and colour. Interestingly we then conducted a bouyancy test to determine the type of plastic. Using water, 50% ethanol and 55% ethanol we could find out if the plastic was a HDPE, LDPE or PP which are common plastics.
The data (over 300 birds and 1000′s of samples to date) will be analysed to determine data sets and patterns of attraction for particular birds.
This type of lab work is the nuts and bolts of most science projects and to concentrate on fine measurements over a few hours was quite draining, especially on the eyes! The unglamorous, yet important part of being a scientist engaged in data analysis!
Day 2 – Tuesday Afternoon
The afternoon was spent working with honours student Lauren who is completing a study looking at the types and frequency of plastic ingestion by coastal and sea birds. We had a briefing and then moved down to the workshop to start the necropsies (autopsies) on a range of birds including fairy prions, cormorants and two pelicans. The birds had been collected dead from local beaches or provided by Australia Seabird Rescue.
Having never done a dissection it was a big learning curve to pick up the scalpal and scissors and start the cutting. We weighed the birds and took measurements of beak and wing span and then wetted down the feathers to make the cutting easier. Lauren showed where to make the incision under the keel (breast bone) and then cut down. I made my cuts and opened up the chest cavity, located the heart and lungs and then removed the digestive tract and gizzard. Further inspection resulted in cutting open the tract and gizzard to see the contents of the stomach. My bird had a a number of pieces of pumice stone, the small floating volcanic stone, this is quite common. I did not find any plastic.
The pelican was a big bird to cut open and Mel who was doing the autopsy spent a lot of time cutting and then examining the digestive tract – lots of bile and a huge clump of worms in the gizzard.
The cormorant was a healthy bird with high fat content. When cut open, it had a number of blood clots in the lungs and when the stomach was inspected the remains of what was most likely a box fish were found. The box fish has high toxicity levels and it is quite likely the poisons caused the bird to clot and die.
This was a really interesting afternoon – great science and lots of blood, guts and smells. I’ve certainly learned a lot about the dissection process and also the anatomy of birds. We didn’t find any plastic in our birds and this is a good thing. However the other group found a huge fish hook inside a seagull. The hook had ruptured the lung.
Day 2 – Tuesday Morning
Another beautiful day and we started the day by heading out on the research boat to a location on the west of the island. The waters were calm and it was “as good as it gets!” in terms of weather and conditions. On arrival at the site we began lifting the floats that marked cages containing either green turtle or fish carcasses. The turtles and fish were sourced/collected from agencies and places like Australia Zoo where the animals would have died after having been rescued but with an injury or illness.
The research is investigating how long it takes for a turtle or fish to decompose in a net such as the ‘ghost nets’ that are lost from fishing boats and left to drift with ocean currents. In collecting this data researchers will be able to better pinpoint where the nets and entanglement first occurred. The turtles are checked daily to measure the changes and data is logged along with photographic evidence.
Two of the turtles were floaters due to the enhanced buoyancy caused by bacterial gasses in their gut. Many had bloated, soft tissue and the shells were starting to flake and scoots (like scales) were falling off. At the end of two weeks nothing but a small piece of spine will remain, the entire shell will have broken apart and fragmented. This was a smelly morning!
It was also great to Skype back into my classroom via an iPhone using 3G. This worked well and demonstrates how we can share the field science experience with our students.
Day 1 – Monday
We all met at the ferry and jumped on board for the hour run over to Dunwich and the Moreton Bay Marine Research Station on North Stradbroke Island. Straddie is the second biggest sand island in the world.
After a briefing and introduction to the program by CSIRO scientist Denise Hardesty, we split into two groups; one heading out on the boat to inspect turtle decomposition rates while my group drove to Point Lookout and the beach. Here we completed three transect surveys and it was amazing to see how many small pieces of plastic (mainly blue and white) we found on what would be termed a pretty untouched beach.
Tonight we are entering our data and updating the blogs.
Hi everyone at MOPS.
I’m looking forward to sharing what I see, hear and learn over the week. I’m on North Stradbroke Island in Queensland as part of the TeachWild project that our Research Group is participating in. With over 270 marine species affected by marine debris, knowing where the debris comes from and how it impacts on marine life is very important. During the week our team will;
- Ocean trawls for debris;
- Necropsies (autopsies on marine wildlife);
- Beach surveys looking for debris and affected animals (sea birds, turtles etc). Data collection will include recording the rubbish on the beach in relation to the type and size of marine debris;
- Laboratory work which may involve sorting through the contents from a necropsy, to analyse and record the debris found inside marine wildlife;
- Oceanography experiments; looking at how factors such as currents, waves, and climate change impact on where marine debris ends up;
Last week we completed a survey at Fairy Meadow/Puckeys Beach and have logged our data ( see Tu if you want to know more!).
Here are some photos of the windy session!