A group of high-achieving Tasmanian students has shown they’ve got what it takes to assist with world-leading Australian research. Five year 11-12 students from Rosny College, as winners of the first Tasmanian Envirothon competition, have just returned from field work investigating plastic pollution amid the stunning beauty of Lord Howe Island, far off the coast of New South Wales.
Kate Adby, Bridget Dickenson, Aden Handasyde, Katie Mulder and Sophie Warren spent the school holidays travelling with their teacher, Bill Albion, to Lord Howe Island – a World Heritage location that few people are lucky enough to visit. The trip was filmed by fellow Rosny media student Peter Harcourt.
The study trip was arranged by the Bookend Trust, an Australian education charity. The students won the trip through the high standard of achievement and commitment that they showed in the Tasmanian Envirothon competition.
Dr Jennifer Lavers, a biological researcher, accompanied the students to Lord Howe Island, where she studies sea birds foraging in the Tasman Sea. Her work has drawn international attention, including from David Attenborough and TIME magazine.
Dr Lavers stated that while many people were aware of plastic pollution being a problem in the northern hemisphere, they did not realize that it was now a major problem right here in Australia and in Tasmania. As one of the few Australian researchers undertaking such studies, she has found that Australian waters have dangerously increasing levels of plastic pollution.
“It is an enormous issue” Dr Lavers said. “Foraging birds collect floating material from the ocean surface without realising that more and more of it is inedible, and then feed their chicks which fill up and die from plastic ingestion - the same as if you or I ate 12-15 kg of plastic in a meal. The plastic also degrades into smaller plastic molecules that concentrate heavy metals and other toxins within the food chain.”
The students assisted Dr Lavers with her monitoring of sea bird adults and chicks within the colonies, dissection of dead birds, studies of plastic debris along the shoreline, and weeding and ecological restoration of habitats on the island.
The study trip was made possible because of the selfless support of private donors and small businesses, some of whom sacrifice substantial amounts from their own income to provide opportunities to inspire upcoming students.
Dr Niall Doran, of the Bookend Trust, said that understanding and facing such problems was the reason for the students’ trip. “They are the generation who need to solve these problems, no matter how difficult that seems” he said. “Learning directly from experts and role models like Dr Lavers helps prepare them for that.”
The students’ experiences were filmed to produce multimedia educational material for other schools. The Bookend Trust is also about to call for expressions of interest for schools to participate in the 2012 Envirothon competition.
The Envirothon competition is run by the Bookend Trust, with support from the Tasmanian Environment Protection Authority Division and the University of Tasmania’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology. The 2011 Lord Howe study trip for the winners was funded by the Bookend Trust, with generous support from Par Avion/Airlines of Tasmania. Runners-up were given free coastal wilderness cruises by philanthropist Rob Pennicott, who has just circumnavigated Australia by jet boat to raise funds for the eradication of Polio.
A sad world record: a dead shearwater chick is found to contain 276 large pieces of plastic in its stomach. The bird’s parents have accidentally collected this material in the Tasman Sea. People can make a difference simply by reducing plastic use and disposing of their rubbish properly. Photo: Ian Hutton.
Tas students making a big impression on Lord Howe Island. (from right: LHI expert Ian Hutton; students Aden Handasyde, Kate Adby, Katie Mulder, Sophie Warren and Bridget Dickenson; Tasmanian expert Dr Jennifer Lavers, and teacher Bill Albion).
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The Bookend Trust is a not-for-profit environmental education program, seeking to inspire disaffected youth with the positive careers they can build making the world a better place. We achieve this through scholarships, documentaries, school visits, public presentations, on-ground field courses and the award-winning Expedition Class adventure learning program. Bookend is funded through the donation of time, energy and resources by businesses, professionals and private individuals concerned about building a positive and co-operative environmental future for our students and community.
We started this work voluntarily as we feel privileged to have had the careers we’ve had, and we wish to pass this inspiration and opportunity to the next generation. Our ethos is that students (of all ages) should not underestimate the environmental problems that need to be addressed, but in doing so should see the opportunities that these challenges present. We therefore aim to provide opportunities, experiences and inspiration to students that they may not otherwise receive, and in turn to inspire them to “give back” to the community.
In 2009, our Expedition Class program won the Australian Geographic Spirit of Adventure Award, and in 2010 Bookend won the Tasmanian Awards for Environmental Excellence in Education. See more at http://www.bookendtrust.com, including video samples and an outline of the very diverse projects we run at http://www.bookendtrust.com/index.php/whatdoesbookenddo