Arrived at Phillip Island with two interstate fellow expeditioners, Sam from Adelaide and Bruce from Rollingstone, Queensland. After meeting all the other members of our team and our leaders, Denise and Geraldine we made our way up to the Penguin Parade. Many rafts of penguins (not penguins on rafts!) were sighted, about 400 little penguins parading up the beach from the surf to their burrowing areas in the fringing dune vegetation. A weighing bridge provided rangers with important data on the health of the penguin population.
Dr Britta Denise Hardesty started the day off with an overview of data collection procedures and methodology. We then began our transect surveys. When overlooking the Penguin Parade beach it seemed pristine and clear of any obvious debris. After completing numerous transects we recorded minimal debris such as nurdles and size 1 microplastics. One recently deceased Shearwater was located on beach. From initial examinations is seemed undernourished. We will perform a necropsy later on to find out more on probable cause of death.
Back at the volunteer House we logged in our transect data and then Graeme, the Island Ranger gave a talk on the Phillip Island, its history, environmental strategies and land use.
Out bright and early for an Emu Parade along Smiths Beach. Over 1000 nurdles collected and recorded on the beach today. Size 1 and size 2 hard plastics were the next most frequent debris recorded.
The debris was sorted into sizes and type using a class size chart. This data was then entered into the Teach Wild data base.
After logging in all our data we investigated plastics and their properties through plastic ‘typing’. this process involved testing the bouyancy of a range of hard plastics to determine what are the plastic polymers (polymers,HDPE,LDPE’PET,PVC,PP). The most common hard plastics were the HDPE’s. We performed repeated tests to confirm the validity of our data.
Tonight, with members of the Victorian Ornithogolical Society, we went out to check out the shearwater nesting boxes to band, weigh, measure and collect oil samples. It was a cold, windy and wet night as we made our way up to the Penguin Parade area. We had to take care not to tread on any burrows and to be aware of the Redback spiders that lurked within the boxes. There was only three birds located in the boxes and a few secured in the vegetation. Each bird was weighed, measured and banded.
Today we performed necropsies on three shearwaters, a penguin and a magpie. By examining stomach and crop content we could determine whether plastics and other marine debris had been ingested by these birds. The results confirmed that microplastics were in all birds except the penguin with the plastics being mainly hard white size 1 pieces and nurdles. These plastics were washed and sieved and recorded. We then measured their dimensions and assessed what types of plastics they were through the buoyancy testing process.
After the necropsies Andre, a penguin researcher, gave a talk on penguins and the research he is involved in.
That night we headed off to Woolami Beach to watch the Shearwaters raft in to their burrows at dusk. It was a spectacular sight to see the birds fly in to land above us over the coastline. Unfortunately the numbers were low and we were unable to secure any of these birds to weigh and measure. It was a great way, however, to spend our last night appreciating the beauty of this natural environment and the shearwaters aerial display.
After breakfast, a team debriefing and clean up to was time to say goodbye to our new friends and colleagues. It was a great experience to engage in fieldwork in such a rich natural environment with incredibly motivated and passionate teachers and scientists. From working together you can see how easy it is to make a difference in protecting our fragile marine environment. With this knowledge and experience I know when I walk along the beach I will see it from a different perspective. Each piece of marine debris is not just random beach litter but a size, a type and a potential threat to our marine life.