Really looking forward to being in the field, collaborating with other Science teachers and working with the CSIRO Scientists. Intrigued by necropsy and spectrophotometry.
Thanks EarthWatch for the opportunity.
8:00am Safely arrived – a gorgeous morning ferry trip – we saw dolphins AND A DUGONG – so cool – my first.
9:00am Did the intro and safety talk with the other teachers (7 others) and the scientists. The research station belongs to UQ and is very well resourced in a beautiful waterside setting (tough place to be working all week, I must say)…and YES… I AM working.
10:00am Our first lecture on the National Marine Debris Project – a national coastline project to get solid data on plastic pollution patterns that can inform policy-makers to try to address this major threatening process to marine systems.
My aim is to bring this project into my Year 9 classroom and show them what “real” environmental science looks like.
2:00pm We split into groups and I am in the “Boat” group for the afternoon. We are helping a University research student record data on her project….wait for it….on the decomposition rates of dead turtles. So yes – dead turtles decomposing….whiff whiff…and you thought I was having a cruisy holiday!
The boat is a hard bottom twin motor inflatable. Hailey has two sites here, each with 6 dead turtles in cages floating at 1.5m depth. We pull up the turtles, which have been in the water for 4 days already, and make detailed observations on the state of decay – they haven’t decayed too much yet but they are pretty smelly already. I helped pull the traps up and got dead turtle juice all over my clothes – lucky I’m not squeamish and believe that soap cures most dirts. The washing machine is my friend.
The morning was spent doing necropsies (a fancy word for whole dead animal dissections) on sea birds (pelican, cormorant, gull and fairy prion). We cut them open and squeezed out their intestines looking for plastics. The fairy prion had small bits of plastic, the gull had swallowed a large fish hook which had caused it to bleed internally and the cormorant had eaten a poisonous boxfish which may have killed it. Again STINKY work but interesting. I do love to do a dissection.
The afternoon was back out on the boat with the decomposing turtles and fish. We got very efficient at it and managed NOT to get covered in stinky juice at all. It was a powerful motivator for finding a better way. Team work was the answer.
The evening was spent in lectures presenting the initial results from the data collected so far on plastics – hard plastics are eaten mostly by juvenile and adult birds.
Then we watched a very good documentary called “Bag it” about plastic bags, single use disposable plastics and their impact on the environment. The final message : REDUCE consumption, especially single use plastics; carry a non plastic shopping bag, DON’T DRINK BOTTLED WATER…I’m thinking a new school policy might be needed…..
Rubbish on Beaches
Today my Team (Team A) did our first beach transects. Transects are a way of sampling a large area by making observations in repeated small areas within the large area. So, in three different, random spots we laid a tape measure across the beach from water line to backbeach. Two of us walked on either side of the tape measure looking down and collecting any non-biological products within 1m of each side. What we found was mostly styrofoam and hard plastic. We recorded it’s colour, size and type. It is shocking how much rubbish there is, even on unpopulated beaches. I found 4 glow sticks and a plastic toy man (parachute man) as well as many many pieces of styrofoam and other plastic objects.
It was disturbing how much plastic and rubbish we found in a small area…..
Thursday – Plastic densities, Emu Parade and Dripping Turtle Intestines
A busy busy day. Started working with some pretty tedious data recording – all the bits of plastic that have been found in the dead birds had to be measured for length, width and depth, weighed and then classified by placing them in different density liquids to see if the sank or floated.