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Marine debris – ‘minimising our impact’

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The Best Expedition in the World is looking at all aspects of the Great Barrier Reef; how we manage it, how we use it and how we protect it.

Teaching future generations about life under the water gives them something to relate to and something to respect and treasure. The work that organisations such at GBRMPA conduct at school level means that every year new Reef Guardians graduate and take their knowledge away with them.

Daydream Island in the Whitsundays held a Eco-Conference for Kids whilst we were there highlighting themes such as coral bleaching and marine debris. We joined in, I gave a presentation about the reef itself, fed the stingrays and helped coordinate the lessons about waste and recycling.

Curious and loving the slimy creatures The Ego Barge - a true reef guardian

Libby Edge from Eco-Barge Services highlighted one of the main causes of concern being storm-water drain run-off.

Imagine a thunderstorm dumps 100mm of rain on a town. The waters race into the storm-water drain systems carrying with them all the bottles, lids and accumulated rubbish that sits in the gutters, washing them directly out into the ocean.

Over 60% of the waste found in the ocean comes from this source. I don’t have a simple solution but reducing this will have dramatically positive effects on the beaches and oceans of the world….marine life will be the biggest beneficiary of course!

We spent a morning with the team from Reef HQ here in Townsville, GBRMPA’s public side and the largest coral sea aquarium in the world. Their Turtle Hospital was set up two years ago to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles from the Queensland coastline.

Reef HQ The Turtle Hospital

They currently have 17 patients and the majority suffer from ingested plastic bags; the single most damaging marine debris source. Turtles feed on sea grasses and jellyfish. To a turtle plastic bags can appear to be jellyfish. They eat them, can’t digest them and their intestines block up resulting in one very ill turtle.

Nick and the team at the hospital have had four patients here since the early part of 2011 and their time for release back into the wild has finally come, perfectly coinciding with our arrival. Polly and her friends are heading back to the ocean!!

These normally placid creatures seem to sense their impending good fortune, splashing around in the tops of their tanks waiting for the off. We carefully lift them out, place them into large plastic crates and cover their heads with a damp towel…just to make the journey to the beach a little less traumatic.

Polly says goodbye The rehabilitated turtles leave the land Off Polly goes!

They’ve created quite a stir in the media. We’re met by television crews from Channels 7, 9 and 10! Polly, Bertie, Beagle and Stumpy (had a flipper bitten by a croc apparently)

One by one we take them to the water’s edge, remove the towels and lower them gently onto the sand….AND THEY’RE OFF!!

It is simpy one of the most incredible things I have ever been involved with. Watching these gentle, beautiful reptiles go back to their own world is awesome. With a few uncomfortable waddles down the sand they’re once more into a world where they become graceful, efficient and at one.

Without a thankful look back to their doctor Nick they leave, surfacing only to take a short breath a hundred metres from the shore.

Four turtles are back where they belong. It will take a conserted effort by individuals, councils and governments around the world to stop plastic bags entering the waters of the world’s oceans.

It can be done, but will require the effort of many, many people. Experiencing the release today reinforced my desire to help make this happen.

The simplest first step? Don’t take carrier bags from shops….buy green bags and reuse them over and over again!

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