This green sea turtle died in the care of Australian Seabird Rescue. It was found to have 116 pieces of plastic inside.
This green sea turtle died in the care of Australian Seabird Rescue. It was found to have 116 pieces of plastic inside.

Research project is rubbish

The Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) are undertaking a research project to get a clearer picture about the levels of debris in Northern Rivers marine waters and the impact it is having on wildlife in the region.

The first phase of the project will involve collecting data from other wildlife groups, such as the Northern Rivers and Tweed Valley Wildlife Carers, WIRES and National Parks, to get an accurate record of how human debris in the waterways is affecting wildlife.

“We figure the best place to start is with the local wildlife agencies who are dealing with wildlife everyday and getting a snapshot of a years worth of injuries to give us some hard data,” ASR general manager Keith Williams said. “We want to look at the types of debris, where it is happening and ways we might be able to address it... like looking at ways of trapping it on land before it gets into the water.”

The second part of the project will involve the use of a trawling net from the US that is specifically designed for measuring the amount plastic in the ocean.

“We will be trying to establish a base line for much debris is in the South Pacific so this area will become a reference point,” Mr Williams said.

They will be working with a group called Algalita Marine Research Foundation, who has been instrumental in researching and mapping an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where four ocean currents converge and deliver constant stream of plastic rubbish near Hawaii.

“That’s one of the exciting things for me, working with people to resolve some of the bigger questions as well as the local ones,” Mr Williams said.

Project co-ordinator Kathrina Southwell said debris is a big problem, and seems to be getting worse each year.

“Some of the incidents that stick in my mind are a northern giant petrel that was brought our attention having swallowed a balloon and its tie-string,” she said.

“We also had a hawksbill sea turtle that was extremely congested, until she passed a 30cm long piece of plastic rope which had been blocking her stomach and would have eventually killed her. Fortunately, both of these animals we were able to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but a lot have died due to plastic and of course an even greater number die in the wild from ingestion of plastic or entanglement in marine debris and are never reported.”


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