Saint Ignatius College

North Stradbroke

Found It ..... ahhh Marine Debris

Found It ….. ahhh Marine Debris

Expedition 2013

Leesa Snookes

This is the remnants of a party balloon ….. NOT so much fun anymore!


This is the view back from the boat - to the research station.

This is the view back from the boat – to the research station.

Day 1 – Monday 26th August

One day in and already my head hurts from the amount of marine information I have been exposed too!! It’s amazing – startling – scary – the facts and figures about marine debris and the sheer level of information that even the cutting-edge scientists DON’T yet know. Hence, the reason it is sooooo important to involve and inspire the next generation of inquiring minds …. thats you guys – our students.


So here’s a sample of what I’ve learnt:

  1. North Stradbroke is the second largest sand island
  2. It is being seriously mined – for sand …. not-so-slight ecological issue!!
  3. The sand is used for primarily glass production and the manufacturing of digital tablets (Yep – iPads! etc)
  4. Sea turtles decompose quicker in the ocean than on the land/sand
  5. working in the Science world involves thinking outside the square, statistics, policies, raising money and working in amazing landscapes
  6. Working as a Marine Biologist is NOT just about whales – its chemistry, physics, ecology, finance, enviro science, etc
  7. Shells can easily be mistaken for plastic debris
  8. Plastic debris comes in all sorts of colour, shapes and sizes
  9. For each person of the Australian population there is at least 3 itemsof plastic debris on our beaches
  10. Sth Australia’s beaches are cleaner – there appears to be a direct link to the 5c return on their plastic bottles
  11. Plastic is everywhere on the beach ….




Setting up the Beach Transect

Setting up the Beach Transect





Beach Transect

Today we completed 3 beach transects.

We gathered plastic debris on each transect, within a 1m zone either side of the line. The amount we gathered was eye opening


Where is it from? Research suggests that it is most likely to have Australian origins!

Day 2 – Tuesday 27th August

How and why do we use a Transect? Thanks for the Question Darbi!

  • A transect is a measurable line that is set-up to measure and count whatever the focus of your study is.

Yesterday, we lay out a measuring tape (we did this 3 times and the lengths were 80m, 85m & 80m) this was the length from the water to just beyond the high tide mark. We then counted and collected every piece of plastic litter (marine debris) within 1m either side of the measuring tape. Also, the transect was split into 10 equal sections and we recored detailed information about the first piece of litter we found – this included shape, size and other details.


All of this info is being up-loaded onto a national data-base. I’ll try and find out some more details about what is being done with this information by the scientists here … have a great day! I’m off & out on the boat to undertake some turtle research!


Heading out on the research vessel

Heading out on the research vessel

Our morning was out on the water – a beautiful day, quite calm and warm. We were all eager to get stuck into the research – viewing many a majestic sea bird on the trip out. Below, is the first pelican I saw for the day.

Photo 326 1

PLease note its grace. Remember

this for later….

We were out in the field with Cathy who is the head scientist here. Her focus is on Sea Turtles.

From her research, she has revealed that 1/3 of the turtle she encounters have ingested (eaten) plastic! Yuk!

So…. the turtles….. they were not so flash! When we arrived at the experiment site all that was visible were floats – indicating the experiments below.Turtle decomposition

Beneath each float was a turtle or a fish – suspended in the mid-water below. In total, there were 7 turtles and 7 fish. For each basket, we hauled the decaying animal aboard and noted obvious signs of decay. The turtles and fish have been in the water for 5 days and had scales starting to fall off (on turtles they are called scutes) and their flippers were starting to go mushy.


first 111






This research will give the scientists here an idea of how long it takes for a sea turtle to decay in the ocean. This information will then be linked to Ghost net fishing. I’ll chat about this massive issue in the future.


This afternoon we were back on dry land and working in the outdoor lab (I later found out that this is a wise move when dissecting dead sea birds – they, like the decaying turtles, DO NOT smell very good!).

We dissected the birds that were found dead on the beach to determine what contents their intestines held – and possibly determine the cause of death – all the while focusing upon marine debris.DSCN1317DSCN1312









Here is a sea bird that had a deathly experience fishing. The hook found today was the size of your thumb … imagine being an animal that is smaller than the size of your foot and swallowing a hook that size? DEAD. Disturbing.

We finished the day on a positive note. Discussing the ways that individuals, families, schools, towns, governments & everyone who wants too, can make a difference. In the end, its the small things. Imagine, making a change each week that decreases your use of plastics.


Pelican Dissection - note black blobs

Pelican Dissection – note black blobs

What would you do?

What can you do?

When will you start doing it?


Tomorrow, I am taking my ceramic coffee mug to the cafe to order my morning caffeine fix …. small steps

Signing off – chat tomorrow!

PS – remember the GRACEFUL pelican … well I sure do feel differently about them after looking inside this one (see above). Either side you can see the ribs, then the 2 light pink areas are its lungs. You will notice the black blobs – these are a fungal disease that affected this pelicans life – it may have been the cause of death?!?


Mr Pelican before the dissection …. poor fella

Day 3 – Wednesday 28th August

Today began with another trip out in the boat to see the turtles and the fish that are deteriorating rather quickly. There are 2 locations for the samples – testing variables is an important part of scientific method. The turtles we observed today are suspended in waters with high flow currents, whereas yesterday the turtles were suspended in low flow waters.


Which turtles and fish do you think will deteriorate more quickly? Why?


Another turtle to observe. They are starting to go very jelly-ish - and stinky!

Another turtle to observe.
They are starting to go very jelly-ish – and stinky!

Hopefully, I can let you know by the end of the week.

The reason it is important to know this is so that Maine scientists can determine how long turtles can last if they are trapped in a net.


Thanks Jesse for the question about where the turtles come from – would you believe that they are sourced as dead specimens from rescue organizations? This includes Australia Zoo and other local Northern NSW and southern QLD groups. All of the specimens are young – and for a sea turtle that’s between 15 & 20 years!


How many turtle species are there? I’m not sure Mitch but I will endeavor to find out …. why would you like to know?

What I do know about marine turtles, is that in our waters, right near our homes in Southern Victoria, we have THE largest marine turtles. They are called Leatherback turtles. They can live beyond 50 years in age, weigh over 900kg’s and grow over 2 meters in length … most Victorians don’t even know that they are out there!


Marine Science Lab

Marine Science Lab

This afternoon, we were in the lab. Getting down and Super-scientific! We were sorting out plastic samples taken from the birds that have been dissected. Each piece of plastic is measured, weighed and has its density/buoyancy tested.

Buoyancy Testing

Buoyancy Testing

I’m hoping to do this back at school with marine debris we find on the beach (or in our school yard!). From here the scientists will use the data to try and determine if marine birds are feeding on certain types of plastics. Lauren who is studying for her Honours, is undertaking the study about birds and the plastics they are consuming. She tells me that by far, the party balloons she removes from birds stomachs are warm colored – red, pink, orange, etc. Interesting!











Small pieces of plastic. Each bird has its own number and then letter for each piece found in its stomach. Note: this bird had letter A to W .. you do the Maths!?!

Small pieces of plastic. Each bird has its own number and then letter for each piece found in its stomach. Note: this bird had letter A to W .. you do the Maths!?!












Hi Will & Cam - Wish you were here! Willo you would be really interested to see all of the different types of plastics we are finding – and how we are testing them in the laboratory. Cam I wish I had you on the boat with me – you’d LOVE it! Yesterday we saw a pod of dolphins (there were a couple of baby dolphins), a dugong popping its head up for air and a sea turtle. The Dugongs enjoy living here because there is sea grass on the bottom of the ocean, especially in areas where it is not too deep, and this is what this amazing creature feeds on. Both of you would love the water up here – swimming, snorkelling and surfing xx

Day 4 – Thursday 29th August

Back out on the boat this morning – and another fine day of sunshine! We took observations today of the turtles in the Low Flow zone. Phew, were they smelly! You can see from the images that the turtles are really starting to break apart. Some of them have lost fins, scutes(that’s the segments of their shells), eyeballs, etc. It appears that the deterioration rate is really increasing.

The turtles are starting to lose their scutes (thats the name for the plates on their shells) AND get super-goopy!

The turtles are starting to lose their scutes (thats the name for the plates on their shells) AND get super-goopy!


Here is one of the scutes coming off

Here is one of the scutes coming off


This turtle will be observed after he goes overboard. Note the Go-Pro camera being attached to the cage. When we watched the footage, it was amazing how much the water currents moved the turtle around! This was add to the decomposition process.

This turtle will be observed after he goes overboard. Note the Go-Pro camera being attached to the cage. When we watched the footage, it was amazing how much the water currents moved the turtle around! This was add to the decomposition process.


Emu Bob - collecting marine debris on the beach.

Emu Bob – collecting marine debris on the beach.





















Before lunch we squeezed in an Emu bob – collecting any rubbish we could find. It never ceases to amaze how much litter is on a beach when you take the time to look!






This afternoon we headed to the north of North Stradbroke Island. Here we undertook 3 more beach transects and another emu bob. It was really interesting to see that there was less debris on the beach than expected, given the measurement from the water to the dune was in excess of 90 meters. We wondered if the litter was being hidden by the track marks – as you can see this beach is used by 4WD’s.

Flinders Beach Site of our afternoon transect.

Flinders Beach
Site of our afternoon transect.

Such excitement! At the top of our first transect there was a great deal if tiny bird activity. Upon observation, we discovered that it was a breeding pair of hooded plovers. Those of you who visit any beach between Queenscliff and Torquay, should know that we have hooded plovers who nest on our beaches – and they are super-rare, super-precious and not very clever at concealing there nests! The photos shows you what their nests look like …. not exactly a well-protected egg!

Hooded Plover Nest- Amazing! These tiny beach birds are seriously in danger of becoming extinct.

Hooded Plover Nest- Amazing! These tiny beach birds are seriously in danger of becoming extinct.






Note: the 3 specks of white in the sand …. they’re plastic!?!!





End of the day – ready for a good snooze! Chat tomorrow







Day 5 – Friday 30th August

Back out on the water first thing this morning. We were off to observe the high-flow turtles.  The decompostion is really significant with one of the turtles – it has now lost sections of intestine, most of its scutes, facial definition and has many bones protruding on flippers and around the margins of its shell. Interestingly, the least decomposed turtle, is the one who has spent most of this week floating – so clearly the lack of water and increased level of interaction with the air is significantly slowing the decomposition process down.

Severe decomposition

Severe decomposition

Once the data was collected we had an amazing encounter with multiple locals. We got up-close and personal with

  • a juvenile seal – it frolicked by the boat for many many minutes, spending time snoozing, stretching, basking, preening, swimming and playing!
Fur Seal Pup

Fur Seal Pup

  • a number of sea turtles – mostly around the sea grass beds. They can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes!
  • dugong- it was quite some distance from the boat & had come up for a breath before returning to the sea floor for some grass to nibble on. In Moreton Bay, the dugong tend to herd – sometimes the group is up to 100 dugong strong!
  • dolphins – swimming in a small pod in the boating channel
Photo 429

Watching for Sea Turtles

It is easy to see how careful, humans driving water craft need to be to avoid hurting these amazing sea creatures – it is their world, after all.

Perfection at Sea

Perfection at Sea




  1. Paul Lewis

    Hi Leesa, looks and sounds great. We have enjoyed several family holidays at the “Whale Watch Resort” on Straddie – hope you see some whales heading back down south while you are there. Enjoy.

  2. mitch

    Why did you dissect a bird?

  3. jack benjamij

    what was your favourite thing out of all all of them

  4. Annie Taylor

    Could you please bring Charlie and I a pet turtle back thanks :)

  5. Mitch Smilovic

    This is a very interesting blog!

    Do you know how many species of turtle there are?

  6. Luke Bowdern

    Did you like seeing the bird get dissected?

  7. Alex Henry

    Good Job Mrs Snookes.

  8. Maddison McIntyre

    looking’s like your having a fabtabulous time! splendid work ms snookes!!

  9. Conor Healy

    Those poor Turtles….


  10. Will

    Hi Mum,
    Hope you are having a great time. Mr Mac reckons your having a holiday.
    See you soon.
    Love from Will.

  11. I hope everything is going well up in queensland and you’re finding most of the information you need!
    Mel, :)

  12. Jesse

    For the turtles were the turtles that you experimented with were they found dead and then used or were they found and then killed for the experiments?

  13. Emily Jamieson

    Hello! We (8Realino) are all missing you and hope you are doing well!


  14. Caleb

    Hey Hey Snookesy!!

    we’re all admiring the fountain of knowledge you are sharing on your BLOG. Darbi had his moment in the sun when you quoted him on the Blog.

    I particularly like the small steps stuff. Think global act local!!!

    Can’t wait to hear more.

  15. Olivia Wheatland


    i kinda miss you because you teach stuff really good in math :/

    ok have fun with the turtles and not being at school etc. BBYYYEEEE

  16. Ben

    WOW! sounds like you are doing a lot of things. It sounds amazing

  17. Molly Winter

    Hey Mrs Snookes;
    I cant believe you are sooo lucky to be there! I love the part about the Turtles. I also liked the part where you dissected the bird. I cant believe that you got to that! I liked the Marine Debris. That was amazing information. Do you miss us?? I definitely miss you teaching us! How many marine debris did you find??

    From Molly. :)

    • admin

      Hi Molly,

      So far we have collected oodles of plastic debris. In volume it probably only amounts to about 8 shopping bags – however, the plastics that we are finding in the birds intestines are really tiny. One bird yesterday had 23 small colored plastic pellets in its gut – poor thing!

  18. Rhys Lowther

    Hi Mrs Snookes,
    Where you are looks very tropical, the seabird looks interesting.

    Rhys Lowther

  19. Anonimous

    the turtle bit is sad

  20. Morgan

    sounds pretty cool
    with the turtles in the cages were the dead before they were put in them??

  21. Darbi Moody

    Research vessel doesn’t look very big, however, good work.

  22. Tom Harmathy

    Turtle-y wishing I could be there. The poor birds and turtles ;( :(
    There are more than just iPads in the tablet industry. Some others include the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire. BTW “i-pads” is spelt like this: iPads. And you had a capital in please somewhere under Day 2. Apologies for the grammar mistakes. Dad being a 62 year old English Teacher makes it tough to not be a Grammar Nazi. Well keep being awesome, researching sea life and eating cream cheese.

    Yours awesomely (??)
    Tom :D

  23. Bree Murphy

    Hi Ms Snookes i hope your having a good time up there and doing well with all the animals, we all miss you and can’t wait to see you soon :) x

  24. Darcy

    dissections are fun

  25. Aedan Gale

    What was your favourite part of the expedition?

  26. Leesa Snookes

    Hi Mitch – there are 7 species of Marine Turtles of which 6 are in Australian waters. One of them is endemic. This means that it is ONLY found here – its the Flatback sea turtle.

  27. Kerry Sidaway

    Great work Leesa!
    Especially loved that you will take you cup with you to class.
    If we could all take those easy little steps the marine life would be under a lot less pressure.
    Bring back the bottle refund!! (May need to explain that one to the young folk)

  28. Your lovely son Cam and all of MSN :)

    Hi Mum, it’s Cam.
    I miss you! Your pictures look very interesting and sound gross.
    Love Cam

    Hi Leesa,
    MSN would like to know what you do with the animals once you have disected them?
    How many animals have you disected and what other types apart from turtles and birds?
    How do you feel when you disect the animals, does it smell?

    Your page looks awesome! So much information that we didn’t know before! Thanks for sharing.

    From MSN :)

    • admin

      Hi Cam & MSN!

      Thanks for the questions.

      With the birds that we are dissecting, they are disposed of in the rubbish bin. It is a special bin for animal waste. When turtles are dissected in the research station, on Stradbroke Island, they are then returned to the Indigenous community, who have a special ceremony for them before returning them to country (burying or cremating them).

      So far I have only been involved in bird dissections. My group, of 4 teachers and 2 scientists, worked with 7 birds. There was 1 Pelican, 1 cormorant and the remainder were prions (very cute, little birds that could fit in your hand!)

      The dissections and the decomposing turtles and fish that we are observing out in the water, all smell pretty YUK, actually they smell really YUK, actually they smell Super-Dooper disgusting YUK! I don’t really like seeing animals like this – it can be a little upsetting. But, I have to remember that by doing this research the scientists are learning how to better the world that these animals live in (and that we live in!).

      Thanks again for your fab questions!

  29. JoB

    Hi Leesa,
    Glad to see you getting all that info and experience. It is very confronting when you dissect all those animals and birds and see how much plastic they have ingested. I’m sure you will be ready to spread the word when you get back also.
    Say hi to all the crew from me.


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