TeachWild Field Trip
Phillip Island, Victoria
8-12 October 2013
Fly in, meet the crew. First up I met Tonia and Bruce at the airport to pick up the hire car. We navigated our way through the Melbourne traffic across town, around the bay and over the bridge to Phillip Island. It was interesting to see how accessible the island is to the general public. We settled in to our dorm rooms, grabbed a quick sandwich then headed out to Penguin Parade Beach to witness the arrival / land crossing of penguins that night. I was AMAZED to see that nearly 2000 people had arrived to witness the same thing that night. Parks Victoria have done an incredible job of setting up a visitor centre, board walk and amphitheatre seating to manage the massive crowd that arrives each night. We heard that in the past up to 8000 people used to arrive each night to see the penguins – but it turns out this number of people was unsustainable and was ruining the environment. The number of visitors each night is strictly controlled by a booking system and no flash photography is allowed in order to protect the penguins from gazillions of lights. We were lucky to have our own ranger guide who took us into an elevated box area to witness the penguin crossing. A real learning experience! We learnt that around 85% of the penguin population is electronically tagged with microchips, and details of their beach crossing (eg: time, weight) are recorded as the penguins traverse across a tiny purpose built land bridge each time. It is handy that the penguins tend to walk along established tracks each land crossing, so it was just a matter of putting the bridge in the right place in order to collect the microchip data.
Our first day of real field work. After an introduction to the methodology from Dr. Britta Denise Hardesty, we headed out to the beach to undertake our first marine debris survey. We learnt that the EarthWatch / CSIRO partnership has approved two survey methodologies: The Emu Parade and the Transect Line. We headed out to the same beach as last night – the Penguin Parade Beach and conducted a transect line survey. I am impressed by the level of data collected from each survey site before you even begin looking for marine debris. Each survey sheet requires you to collect information such as wind speed, direction, distance to dominant debris line and number of people visiting the beach (+ so much more!). I also learnt that if you miss out on collecting any pieces of information during the survey, it is very difficult to go back and complete the forms later – things like photo reference number and transect length need to be collected as soon as they are gathered. I also learnt three new words today: nurdle, necropsy and lavage. (Here is a challenge for you: try and use all three words in a meaningful sentence!)
We learnt and practiced the survey techniques developed for this project including the Emu Parade and Plastic Typing tests. The typing tests involve floating the plastic debris collected into different concentrations of alcohol (50% and 55%) to see if they floated or sunk. Using a flow chart of plastic flotation properties, we were able to sort the plastic debris into different classes such as HDPE, PP and LDPE. (Challenge: What do these acronyms stand for? Why would different plastics float or sink in different alcohol concentrations?). Other activities we were involved in include Short-tailed Shearwater (aka: Mutton bird) nest box checking as well as preen gland sampling. The preen gland sampling is a new technique which has been developed to test oils produced from the birds rump area for traces of plastic assimilation into the birds body. The results of this work will be published at a later date!
- Plastics take thousands of years to make, but only 1 second to use and throw-away
- Humans produce life threatening amounts of plastic
- Plastics are working their way into the blood streams of wildlife and humans
- Communities all around the world are working together to get rid of plastics from our food chains
- I can do something to reduce the amount of plastic littered and wasted in my community