St Brendan's College Year 12 Biology students who are involved in an international research project in cooperation with Tangaroa Blue Foundation.
St Brendan's College Year 12 Biology students who are involved in an international research project in cooperation with Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Contributed

Plastic is a threat to Capricorn Coast beaches and waterways

ST BRENDAN'S College year 12 biology students are getting to the bottom of the damage litter is causing our beaches and waterways by being involved with the Tangaroa Blue Foundation.

Taking a stroll on the beach, at a first glance, the sand seems beautiful and clean and it reminds us of the times we were making sandcastles and playing with friends and family.

Look closer and you will see that the grains of sand are slowly being substituted for plastic.

Sand dunes are littered with plastic items, small, big, easy to identify and some so old that it is hard to determine their origins.

Biology teacher Dr Flavia Santamaria explains what is already known, that voluntarily or unwillingly this plastic has been thrown into the environment.

"It is also known that plastic is not biodegradable, and that every piece of plastic that has ever been made, is currently in the environment and cannot be destroyed," Dr Santamaria said.

"It can start its travel from land and from boats, and the currents take it around the globe ending up on the beaches of every country.

"Plastic breaks up into very tiny pieces, but it will never disappear and it gets swallowed by fish, turtles, dolphins, seals, birds and ultimately by humans.

"The smaller the plastic, the more difficult it is to identify, but also the more dangerous for the health of humans and wildlife alike.

"This is what is known as marine debris.

Where do all these bits of plastic come from? Are they local or global? What kind of damage are they doing to the already stressed marine ecosystem?

These are the questions that St Brendan's College year 12 biology students in co-operation with Tangaroa Blue Foundation want to answer.

The students are involved in a very important project which has international ramifications.

Dr Flavia Santamaria said students have surveyed a 400m stretch of Bangalee Beach and collected five stock feed bags (supplied by Tangaroa Blue Foundation) of plastic items of all types and sizes, from 5mm to 1m. 

Back at school, the students sorted the debris in categories, counted all the items, recorded them on a data sheet and wrote a detailed report.

Amongst the items were plastic bottles, leads, bits of fishing nets of all sizes, fishing lines and also baby nappies.

Dr Santamaria said all the data is going to be entered into a database by Tangaroa Blue Foundation, one of the organisations that together with CSIRO, James Cook University and other national and international organisations will analyse and investigate the origin of the items.

The aim is to investigate which countries are contributing the most to marine debris and how then to encourage all countries including Australia to limit the damage.

By educating communities and governments about the dangers of the indiscriminate use of plastic and the incorrect disposal of all plastic items, the Tangaroa Foundation hopes to make a better planet.