Dr Kathy Townsend prepares to release a sea turtle
Dr Kathy Townsend prepares to release a sea turtle
1 April 2010

How marine rubbish is affecting sea turtles will be dinner conversation in Manhattan on April 13, with UQ’s Dr Kathy Townsend leading the discussion.

Dr Townsend, education officer at UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station, has been invited to speak at an event hosted by the Earthwatch Institute, a non-profit organisation that supports scientific research.

Preliminary studies by Dr Townsend and her team have found more than 35 percent of stranded turtles die due to eating marine debris.

“Marine rubbish is having a significant impact on marine life,” Dr Townsend said.

“These impacts include ingestion of plastic debris and entanglement in packaging bands, synthetic ropes and lines or drift nets, both of which can lead to death of turtles, birds and marine mammals.

“Initial observations indicate that size, shape, composition of the rubbish and the size of the turtle all play an important role in whether the ingested debris will result in the turtle eating it and if the gut becomes impacted.”

In October, Dr Townsend was awarded the Goldring Emerging Marine Scientist Fellowship, presented by the Earthwatch Institute, which supports promising early-career researchers and professionals.

The three-year $225,000 funding will allow Dr Townsend to expand her research beyond the boundaries of Moreton Bay plus support several postgraduate students.

She also hopes to raise awareness of the environmental damage caused by marine rubbish.

“Since 2008, I have been engaging with Earthwatch and Brother International to bring groups of corporate representatives to the Moreton Bay Research Station to be scientists for a day,” Dr Townsend said.

“Known as ‘Turtles in Trouble', up to eight volunteers spend the day with me.

“It starts with a lecture, then they help me with a turtle necropsy, help me sort any rubbish pulled out of the turtle and then end the day by collecting and quantifying the rubbish found on local North Stradbroke Island beaches.

“I have also had a group that I was able to take out on the boat to release a rehabilitated turtle and another trip when we had a sick turtle and they helped to do the basic triage.”

Dr Townsend said her relationship with Earthwatch had provided her with a unique opportunity to highlight the impact that packaging and waste disposal has on the marine environment to those who have the power to initiate change – the leaders of industry.

Media: Dr Townsend (07 3409 9058, kathy.townsend@uq.edu.au) or Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)