On November 14th 2016, a group of 41 students from Rollingstone State School took to the shorelines of Balgal Beach and picked up rubbish within 3 hectares of environment. The Reef Guardian School group ranged from years three down to preps, where on the beach together they collected 17.5 kilograms in 30 minutes including a 7kg plastic drum, several fishing lines and hooks as well as typically seen cigarette butts and a variety of drink containers.
Balgal Beach is a camping site and fishing area hence the type of items the kids picked up, however in comparison to other sites with similar pressures the amount of litter left behind was minimal. Balgal Beach demonstrates that human choice and behaviour can have a grave influence on a location as visitors are taking their rubbish when they leave and locals are helping maintain the area.
After the beach clean-up, students took turns weighing the collection and counting the number of bags they filled over the morning. Filled with satisfaction, the kids were energized for phase two which involved sorting rubbish and data collection!
The students slowly became enthused with this process as it can be challenging at first but soon realised the importance of tracking the types of materials and items floating around in our environment. They discovered that the data is hard evidence, our proof and our ammo to fight the battle against litter. If we want to stop seeing particular litter items in abundance in the environment we need the data to take to the source of the pollution to stop it.
The final phase of the project encouraged the students to create a piece of artwork using marine debris and/or recyclables to link the impacts of plastics and other materials on marine life. Their artwork demonstrates the moto “you are what you eat” as turtles are mistaking plastic for food, where whales and other filter feeders accidentally ingest micro-plastics that are in the mixture of their planktonic diet.
When plastic becomes a part of the marine environment it will always be a part of the sea as it never breaks down, only into smaller and smaller pieces, taking on numerous shapes and sizes that can resemble the diet of any and all sea life.
The Citizen Science Project was funded by ReefBlitz which encourages groups of individuals to develop a scientific baseline by having access to opportunities such as field work experience, data collection, working with science practitioners and building a foundation for their careers. Harnessing the interest and enthusiasm of thousands of people participating in citizen science will enhance the range and quantity of data available to analyse and research. This is true for Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s clean-up events as data is always recorded and entered into the Australian Marine Debris Database for further analyses to create Source Reduction Plans targeting particular sites that are heavily polluted on the coasts of Australia.