Category Archives: Sustainability

Plastic Free July

The Challenge: attempt to purchase no single-use plastic for the whole month of July

PlasticFreeJuly logo

So it’s been a while since I wrote a post, but I decided to take on a challenge this month and it’s something that I just have to share. It’s called Plastic Free July.

Plastic Free July was started as a local community initiative by the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Perth, Australia in 2011. Its popularity grew in 2012, so in 2013 PFJ expanded to include a website for the project and over 3,000 people around the world have already signed up.

So what’s the idea?

The challenge is simple: attempt to buy no single-use plastic for a month. ‘Single-use’ includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then sent to landfill. It’s not a competition, so you can keep a ‘dilemma bag’ for any unavoidable plastic that you purchase. There are lots of ways to share your stories and pics, ask for advice, or have a go at recipes and DIY’s for around the house that don’t use plastic. You can do it for a day, a week, or the whole month. You can also choose just to cut out the ‘Top Four’: straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids.

Why do this?

Basically, it’s a way to raise awareness about the amount of plastic that you use. That everybody uses. That could be avoidable.

Australians send 1 million tonnes of plastic waste to landfill every year. Every piece of plastic ever produced still remains somewhere in the earth today. Why use something for only a few seconds that will take longer than the rest of your life to break down?

Most of the commonly used disposable plastic items are a convenience and the numbers are staggering. In one week we go through 10 billion plastic bags worldwide, in the USA an average of 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour whilst over 500 million straws are used daily!

There’s also the problem of recycling: whilst important, recycling will never be the solution to rapidly expanding consumption. Plastic Free July focuses on refusing, reducing and reusing. Plus it’s not always possible to recycle everywhere you go.

Some people are also becoming concerned about the health impacts of wrapping food in plastic. The UN and the WHO have even released some reports about it.

Plus of course an issue close to my heart: marine debris. More than 270 of the world’s marine animal species are affected by marine debris; it has a major impact including entanglement and ingestion. CSIRO estimates that there are more than 115 million bits of rubbish on Australia’s coastline. This averages about 5.2 pieces for every person in the country! 74% of all waste we find is plastic. 50% of the top items of ocean debris are associated with beverages. But by using your own drink bottle, takeaway cup and reusable straw (or refusing one) we can all become involved in the solution to reduce plastic consumption and waste.

How to Get Involved

You can register for Plastic Free July here. The website is really informative with lots more information and links to the issue, tips, recipes, tools, and even events in your area. Also, check them out on facebook and twitter. Why not take up the challenge, and see how your planetary footprint can be reduced.

Good luck! And thanks for caring 😀

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The Largest Marine Park Network in the World

I’m back from the land of no internet, and boy do I have great news!

On November 16th 2012, the Federal Government officially declared our new network of protected marine reserves, the largest in the world! Australia is now officially among the world’s best marine protectors, something it needed with the world’s third largest ocean jurisdiction and diverse, fragile ecosystems. We also have some of the world’s most unique marine life, including in the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, and here in the South West where up to 90% of marine life is unique and half the world’s whale and dolphin species are known to occur.

Marine Parks Announcement. Save Our Marine Life

Thirty-three new Commonwealth Marine Parks will be added to the 27 marine parks already in place around Australia (which previously only protected about 4% of our waters). Now 36% of Australian waters will be protected.

The announcement is the culmination of 14 years of hard work and preparation, scientific research and consultation. Plus the actions of the community in showing the government how much they value our marine ecosystem, lifestyle and the benefits that come with a protected environment. More than half a million messages of support were sent to the government during the process, and a record 70% of the public approved of the plan. It really goes to show the importance of people power.

For more information and a summary of the great new marine reserves, head over to Save Our Marine Life.

These new marine reserves pave the way for future marine protection in our waters.

Of course, much work is still needed to address overfishing and oil and gas development threats around Australia.

In addition, there is still time to ask for a few last minute improvements to the marine reserves network in “four forgotten areas”:

  1. Endangered Australian Sea Lion colonies in the South West need protection from gillnet fishing.
  2. Seagrass meadows important for threatened Dugongs in the Limmen Bight, Northern Territory, need protection from seafloor dredge mining.
  3. Seismic testing for oil could put endangered blue whales and sea lions at risk off Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
  4. The Bremer Canyon off WA is an important marine life hotspot including orcas and sperm whales, which is also threatened by oil and gas development. The government put in place a ‘No Oil’ area off Margaret River, so there is precedent for protection of these important habitats.

Click here to send a message to the Environment Minister Tony Burke asking for him to include these important places in the marine sanctuaries network.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this historic achievement possible. Now let’s go out and enjoy our marine life for years to come!

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The Deadly Diner – Dolphins versus Trawl Nets

When your food is easier to catch, how much risk would you take to get some?

Researchers in Australia have found that certain dolphins repeatedly brave the dangers of actively fishing trawls to get to the prize… with a potentially lethal result.

Dolphins fishing in trawl nets. Image: Murdoch University

The dolphins of the Pilbara fishing grounds are known to frequently interact with the fishery, following vessels in hopes of an easy dinner. Up to 50 dolphins can be seen hanging around the stern as the catch is winched up. But most observations of interactions to date come from sightings at the surface by observers placed on the vessels. So what goes on in the water where we can’t see?

To get to the bottom of this question, Murdoch University Honours student Vanessa Jaiteh, with the help of Murdoch’s Cetacean Research Unit and the University of WA placed video cameras inside trawl nets in the Pilbara Trawl Fishery, a finfish fishery off North-Western Australia that earlier this year was brought under scrutiny because of its dolphin bycatch.

What they found was a much higher rate of interactions than previously suspected.

Dolphins are known to associate with all kinds of fisheries around the world, from gill nets to fish farms, and are regularly seen feeding on trawl discards after a catch has been winched up. But what we now know is they also take advantage of the active fishing gear to grab an easy meal too.

Jaiteh et al.‘s study found that “Dolphins were present outside the net in 94% of all assessed trawls and for up to 99% of the duration of an individual trawl. [Dolphins also] entered the net during 81% of all trawls and were present inside the net for up to 98% of the trawl duration.”

It didn’t matter how many dolphins were in the net (although they did like to be the ‘first ones in’): inside, individuals were mostly foraging… or chasing other dolphins. The trawl nets provided an easy fishing ground for the opportunistic individual, whereby large numbers of potential prey could be found in one area, and also because the “net’s surface provides a barrier against which dolphins can chase and catch fish”. Outside, some fish escaped the trawl by swimming underneath it, but other dolphins were clever enough to find these prey too.

The cameras also captured some dolphins exhibiting a strange behaviour, ‘trampolining’, in which individuals repeatedly bounced against the net, turning and twisting their bodies and sometimes rubbing against it deliberately.  The researchers think this could be a way for the dolphins to remove old skin or parasites… or maybe just playful investigation. Either way, it shows an additional use the dolphins make of the nets, which only increases the concern about their interactions.

Taking risks

Up to 50 dolphins were seen around the trawl vessels when the catch was hauled in, which is likely to represent only a small part of the Pilbara local population. It may be that there is a small, specialised community within the population that targets trawlers – something that has been shown in Moreton Bay, Queensland. In addition, only 29 individuals were identified foraging inside the nets, and 22 of these did so several times during the trawl. This suggests that foraging inside trawl nets may be a specialised behaviour exhibited by a limited number of individuals – and often only when the opportunity arises.

Whilst the dolphin bycatch rate is relatively low in this fishery (less than 1 dolphin per 100 trawls), this extrapolates to an alarming 17-50 dolphins per year… With potentially many more unobserved deaths. Foraging opportunity is made risky by the potential for entanglement in the gear. In fact, “fishing-related mortality is considered the most severe and immediate threat to populations of small cetaceans worldwide”.

The current Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) installed in the Pilbara Trawl Fishery consist of a grid designed to deflect dolphins towards an exit hole in the bottom of the net. But this means that a) (according to the camera observations) dolphins are actually more likely to swim forward and upward when they come into contact with the grid, thereby not being able to locate the escape hatch, and b) that dolphins that die in the nets may fall out of the bottom without being detected by surface observers at all.

The study’s authors recommended that “[the fishery] should focus on preventing dolphins from becoming caught, injured or killed in the gear, rather than attempting to prevent these individuals from interacting with the nets”. This could be achieved by developing more effective BRDs – something which the Department of Fisheries is supposed to be trialling at the moment.

For those daredevil dolphins in the Pilbara, a reduced risk of death from dinner could only be a good thing.

Further Reading:

The original paper was published in the online journal Marine Mammal Science: Jaiteh VF, Allen SJ, Meeuwig JJ & Loneragan NR 2012. Subsurface behaviour of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) interacting with fish trawl nets in north-western Australia. Marine Mammal Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.

For a comment from Murdoch University, see this article: Dolphins Filmed Fishing In Trawler Nets.

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