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Dirty secrets revealed during International Coastal Cleanup Day

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I’d been threatening to join the Seaford Beach Patrol group for months to take part in their monthly cleanup and, seeing as I helped them join the International Coastal Cleanup Day movement, thought I should finally get along to the cleanup on the 18th of September. Weather was the standard Melbourne September grey and cold, which didn’t deter 17 locals from turning out to collect more than 35kg of rubbish in a one-hour stint along a 200-300m stretch of our bay beach.

Apart from the scary numbers of cigarette butts, plastic-based food wrappers, bottles, tin cans and foam pellets, the cleanup revealed some surprising finds shown in this table below:

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Considering lollypops (usually Chupa Chup style but varied in size) are not the fashionable thing they once were, it might be that recent storms and winter king tides have revealed layers of historic plastic waste, and also dumped a larger than expected amount of foam and plastic on this stretch of beach. And the old saying about lost socks turning up in the damnedest places holds true, though why there were two socks and four shoes found is anyone’s guess.

Shark Week snubs scientists, increases fear of sharks

As is becoming common this time of year, my Twitter feed has been swamped with Shark Week vitriol – from swimmers who are now more afraid to go in the water to scientists angry at the lack of consultation that goes into a few of the fake documentaries appearing during the event.

Apart from the fact Discovery Channel ignores the rest of the world when it comes to sharing Shark Week with non-Americans, from what I’ve seen of the clips there seems to be a dearth of well-researched, informative programming.

Christie Wilcox writes for the Discover Magazine and her summaries of the week should be required reading for anyone watching Shark Week, including this post on falling ratings and viewer angst:

“It’s the third day of Shark Week, and Discovery has already come under fire for their programming choices. Their big special on kick-off night—Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarineturned out to be another fake documentary, making up people and events to perpetuate the idea that a 30+ ft long great white patrols the coast of South Africa. The legend of Submarine is a particularly fishy topic choice, as its origin can be traced to the 1970s when some journalists decided to make up a story to see how gullible their readers were.”

As some commenters have noted this week, if the focus was spread from great whites to lesser-known threatened species of sharks, their public profile and survival chances might improve. A great white throwing a seal pup in the air or biting a cage might make for exciting TV but shouldn’t the week be about promoting all sharks, not just the most photogenic ones? 

Blue shark attacked by Jaws! Ok, not Jaws but still…

Another one from the “Overhyped Shark Attack” Files, this one is a little more unusual than the common ‘Jaws bites man/woman/pet pitbull’ stories.

Bastion of truth and journalistic excellence*, UK’s Daily Mirror had this report on a blue shark caught by fishermen off Cornwall with reasonably small bite marks sustained by a “10 foot” shark of some description…

Supposed experts are said to be looking into the attack, which happened when one of the fishos hooked a 60lb blue shark and then watched a larger shark – thought to be a great white – takes bites out of the blue before they could pull their catch onboard.

The reporter makes the surprising mention that “Although it usually eats other sea creatures, it attacks between five and 10 humans a year around the world and has killed 29 since 1990.”

Many gossip rags don’t usually admit that white sharks are ravenous for human flesh, so this is a big admission for a tabloid.

More from the fisherman who snagged it:

“The blue shark looked like someone had taken a machete to it.

“There’s nothing round here that can do that sort of damage. I sent the ­pictures to a shark expert and he ­believes it could well be a great white.”

Well, that’s sorted then: if an ‘expert’ says so, great white it is! But probably not. Great whites can roam vast distances and aspects such as climate change-affected ocean currents or shortage of food (i.e. seals, not people) may have encouraged one closer to the UK southern coast.

Without more confirmed sightings and review by real experts, we’ll have to wave this off as a poorly-identified mako attacking a small bluey and leave it at that.

 

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

*For those not aware of sarcasm, this is a relatively straightforward example. The Mirror sits slightly above other UK papers The Sun and the defunct News of the World for integrity and believability.

2012 in review, thanks for making it a great year!

Thanks for helping make 2012 a fantastic year, by reading, commenting and generally being involved! I used to wonder sometimes, as a journalist at small community newspapers, whether anyone really cared or read what I wrote.

Blogging seems to take more of the guesswork out of it: if they like it, then they’ll ‘like’ it! And also always, comments are very welcome: special thanks to Sheltered Cove MarinaBarbra & Jack Donachyseathechangeargylesockbehrm and others for your welcome feedback!!

It’s been a huge year – starting fulltime uni as a marine biology undergrad, moving 3.5 hours southwest to Warrnambool, meeting an amazing woman and getting back into diving and fishing in a big way.

Now for the WordPress.com annual report for this blog:

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Your most commented on post in 2012 was Krill Bill: new-age fad contributing to overfishing, food web destruction and climate change

Click here to see the complete report.

Join a local marine group! A short video from Parks Victoria

Join a Local Marine Group! from Streamline Media on Vimeo.

For more information visit www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

This quick video helps to sum up some of the great aspects both of volunteering in marine-related organisations (as I do in the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre at Queenscliff) and the surprisingly impressive variety of underwater life here in Victoria.

I haven’t joined any local groups around Warrnambool yet, given the amount of time I (try to) dedicate to study, but hopefully by summer I’ll have more hours to spend on some of these types of projects.

Kids get unique view of marine life from the ferry

Marine life display

I previously posted a photo of the view from the Queenscliff fery and am skipping a class on my first day back at uni to catch up on everything I didn’t get done during the holidays – including a post about the trip itself!

We had four four volunteers and two staff helping out during a kids’ session by the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre (new name for the MDC) on the Queenscliff ferry, operated by Searoad. Being school holidays, ferry passengers were mainly families and parents seemed very happy we were providing fun activities to keep the kids occupied.

As well as the usual colouring-in project, the most popular table was full of children making origami animals such as turtles, pelicans and frogs. I attempted the turtle three times and struggled to get it right, only to be upstaged by a six-year-old who made two perfect replicas!

The displays also included the ID table above, which asked children to identify the creature that once inhabited the shell or egg sac or, with the cuttle bone and penguin feathers, what animal it came from. I’m still amazed by young people’s ability to soak up this information and retain it and it should give environmentalists hope for the future that many of them were aware of ocean conservation issues.

Origami project for the kids

Am I smarter than a fifth-grader?

One of the reasons I decided to get serious about marine biology was the chance to educate and people of all ages about the ocean and get them excited about preserving it for future generations.

During a conference in North Carolina two years ago, I met an amazing and inspiring marine educator, Annie Crawley. Annie started her working life planning on being a journalist (like me) but through some pretty cool coincidences and events which you can read about on her website, now travels around the US speaking to mainly school groups about marine life, conservation and her passion for underwater videography.

After returning to Australia from a few years in the UK and with Annie’s inspiring message in mind, I sought out volunteer opportunities at any type of marine-focused centre in Victoria. The most well-known – at least to anyone who has grown up the state – is the Marine Discovery Centre (soon to become Marine and Freshwater) in Queenscliff, about 1.5 hours south of Melbourne. This provided the perfect chance to speak to kids about marine fish and plant life and unexpectedly, to learn a lot from the people I was meant to educate!

One recent instance – last week during our uni Easter break – happened on what the centre terms a ‘Rockpool Ramble’, with a group of about 20 kids and their parents. As the picture shows, conditions didn’t get much better at the Port Lonsdale stretch of beach chosen for the ramble: super low tide, no breeze and clear water.

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While searching through various rockpools for interesting life, an 8-year-old asked if I knew what a small, sand coloured animal (pictured below) was. Given, I’d never seen such a creature before and at the time it was curled up in a corner so my suggestion that it might be a type of worm was probably not that dumb.

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But when a 10-year-old standing nearby casually stated that it was a brittle star (some of the more knowledgable kids don’t even call them ‘starfish’ any more), it reminded me how easily many children can pick and retain information and made me wish I was more interested in marine life as a child. The same child also correctly named a Little Pied Cormorant (Pharlacorax melanoleucos) and probably could have led the field trip better than most of us volunteers.

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