‘Citizen science’ swept into Twofold Bay on a Danish ketch and a wave of micro-plastic awareness on Monday.
The East Coast Odyssey is a nation first survey of plastic pollution of the Australian coastline and it’s being carried out on a 1930s tall ship, The Yukon.
Aboard the 22 metre ketch are passionate specialists from Monash University, the Two Hands Project, the Marine Action Conservation Society, Wild Diaries, blogger David Price and Lord Howe Island specialist Ian Hutton (AOM).
Spearheading the scientific campaign is Monash Uni research fellow Dr Jennifer Lavers along with Two Hands founders Paul Sharp and Silke Stuckenbrock.
Dr Laver’s study uses a fine meshed ‘manta’ net to gather plastics which float on the surface of the ocean.
Beaches are also explored for the Two Hands Project where people use their two hands to collect rubbish for 30 minutes and upload a photo of the findings to the Two Hands website.
Dr Lavers, who closely studies flesh-footed Shearwaters, said the cost of plastic pollution on marine life is rising.
“Marine species at the absolute base of the food chain are ingesting these plastics and these contaminants,” she said.
“In sea birds it’s mainly the chicks that die, as their parents regurgitate plastic-filled food to them.”
She said the eastern seaboard is not free from micro-plastics, most of which originate on land, but the quantity is unknown.
She hopes the 10 week survey will paint this picture and become an annual event.
It began in Hobart on August 12 and continues up the east coast to Sydney before heading south again and stopping in Eden from October 13 to 15.
“From a research prospective it’s a huge first,” Dr Lavers said.
“There is indirect evidence to suggest plastic pollution is definitely an issue, but no one has actually gone out to take a look and to pair it with citizen science is a real driving force.”
Dr Lavers said without citizen scientists the survey would be years off realisation.
“This would have cost us 10 or 20 times the budget and taken years to get the approval, so we embraced citizen science to get it done,” she said.
“Citizen science is the way of the future, there are so few of us scientists and there might only be one or two who specialise in plastics or birds in Australia so we need the public to be eyes and ears.
“And giving people the opportunity to get involved and see the difference is something I’m passionate about.”
Volunteer spotter Chris Sanderson, an ornithologist who can “spot a sea bird from 10 mile and almost tell you what it had for breakfast” according to captain David Nash, said the odyssey was mugged by a couple of humpbacks on the way to Eden.
Video shows them lolling about over the top of each other and rolling onto their backs right alongside the 22 metre ketch.
“We’ve seen 28 species of seabird so far and expect to add quite a few more on the way to Sydney,” he said.
“The most exciting find was an almost full grown male elephant seal in the Bass Strait, they aren’t normally seen north of Macquarie Island.”
The crew are sea-loving people.
Owner captain David Nash and his wife Ea (who is missing her first trip to keep the kids at school) bought the boat for a box of beer in 1997, salvaged and restored it and raised their family while sailing the world.
Nimble footed rigger Anastasia Konstantinidis has worked on almost every tall ship in Australia including the Endeavour and the Enterprise.