Navigating Island Health in the Coral Sea Marine Park

Cruising between the cays and islets of the Coral Sea Marine Park for 21 days may sound like a breeze, but the team involved in this important expedition returned with much more than holiday snaps. The aim of the trip was to evaluate island health in the region by conducting terrestrial flora and fauna surveys, seabird monitoring, pest species assessments and marine debris surveys. 

Led by Parks Australia, the Coral Sea Marine Park Island Health Voyage embarked off the coast of Queensland to the remote area encompassing 900,000 square kilometres. Tangaroa Blue’s Senior Project Coordinator, Mathilde, joined the expedition team, along with Queensland Parks and Wildlife staff and volunteers. 

On some of the southern islands the crew were hard pressed to find a single item of marine debris, however as they progressed north it started to significantly increase. A total of 1.6 tonnes of marine debris was collected from 20 cays and islets in the southern and central regions of the Coral Sea Marine Park, despite these sites being over 250 nautical miles from mainland Australia. 

The crew were all delighted to see the incredible number of seabirds, including globally significant nesting populations of several species, such as the endangered New Caledonia fairy tern. Unfortunately, at one site they were unable to collect the debris due to the hundreds of nesting seabirds which had laid their eggs amongst the rubbish.  The source of much enjoyment on the voyage was the abundance of large hermit crabs. They were found hiding in all kinds of places, which sadly included the marine debris. 

It was incredible to see how much the wildlife was thriving, with nesting species of red footed boobies, brown boobies, lesser and greater frigatebirds, red tailed tropic birds, black-naped terns and sooty terns amongst many others,” said Mathilde from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. “Even more satisfying was leaving the islands and cays clean of any rubbish, at least for the meantime”. 

Once the expedition returned to the mainland in June, the marine debris was sorted and recorded in the AMDI Database. Amongst the debris collected was:

  • 816 plastic water bottles
  • 1600 plastic lids and bottle tops
  • 452m of rope
  • 2km of commercial fishing line
  • 3411 broken hard pieces of plastic
  • 564 thongs and rubber soles
  • a large number of items from all the shipwrecks over the years.

This trip was the third large voyage undertaken by Parks Australia in support of the Coral Sea Island Health Project, which was initiated in 2018. A huge thank you to Ocean Conservancy for contributing funding towards this important expedition.

For more information, please download the Parks Australia Coral Sea Marine Park marine debris presentation.

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