Trinity Catholic College, Lismore

Sunday Night

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.


View from the dining room (deck)

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!



End of the boat jetty


The boat launching

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.

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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.

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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.


Walking a transect

Walking a transect

It was disturbing how much plastic and rubbish we found in a small area…..

This plastic (inside the tyre) was a small percentage of what we found. Can you identify anything that you use?

ThursdayPlastic 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.

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These 2 photos show what was in one pelican’s stomach. A box, 3 fishing hooks, 2 pieces of broken glass and plastic shards.


THen we did another beach sample for rubbish called an Emu Parade – a more school-friendly way of sampling for rubbish on beaches.

It looks like this:

Photo 385

Emu Parade










Again, we found lots of rubbish on the beach – this was a beach near the town and there was lots of plastic and cigarette butts but more glass bottles. To look at, it seems a clean beach so it is always surprising how much rubbish there is.

This afternoon, we did another turtle decay run on the boat….some of them are now unrecognisable – drooping intestines,  dripping eyes, super super gross….but apparently your odour sensors adjust, because I can’t really smell them anymore.

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Can you see the rib bones? The flippers are almost gone and the flesh is melting away

Friday – putting it all together

Today we were busy again, collecting beach transect data and entering it into the National Database. CSIRO has data on plastics on beaches every 100km around the Australian Coastline.

We visited the decomposing turtles for the last time and managed to fit a swim in at lunch. The morning group enjoyed a rare seal sighting (which I was envious of).


  1. James McInnes

    Hey miss, enjoying your holiday?!?!?!?!?! :)
    hugo wants to know if they don’t want to waste the dead turtles, he would happily eat!!!!!!! :0 ;)


    Enjoy the rest of your scientific expedition!!!!!!!!


  2. Hugo Sherlock

    Looks fantastic Ms McCloskey, we’re all eager to hear from you when you return!

  3. Kata Ashdown

    Plastic bottles in school, an issue to take to the Youth leading the world congress next week perhaps.

  4. admin

    The recommendation here is if they can’t remove water bottles then we do a deposit scheme – charge 10c extra for them which is returned when the bottle is returned. But banning them is better. Should show some of the images we are seeing of plastic in bird guts and the facts of how many plastic water bottles are produced and thrown away a day.

  5. Margaret Duffield

    The bottled water one would be good to take up as a school issue. Many schools have taken this on and it has worked. Lots of students use water bottles now. But what about softdrinks in plastic bottles?? They probably sell more than water bottles.
    Looks like you are having a fabulous time.. except perhaps stinky flesh!! LOL

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