It is a magical moment when you see dolphins breaking the surface of Port Phillip Bay. But not many of us make the connection between our consumer choices and the survival of these majestic creatures.
“We spend hundreds of hours on the water, including many hours collecting rubbish floating on the surface,” said Dr Kate Charlton-Robb from the Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation.
“We also respond to incidents of dolphins that died from ingesting plastics or getting entangled. So, we see firsthand the impact of litter on these amazing marine mammals and our marine environment.”
"We know that most marine debris originate locally on land, which gives us a great opportunity to make a difference within our own local environments.”
“People love that we have dolphins in the bay, but don’t connect the packaging we buy and use at home, how we dispose of litter and marine debris.
“We wanted local communities, and particularly young people, to see plastic use and litter disposal as something that affects them and their ‘watery backyard’ where they live or spend holidays.”
“The CSIRO marine debris report suggests education is vital in creating long-term behaviour change,” explained Kate. “So we partnered with Life Saving Victoria (LSV) to run summer education programs for 12 clubs across the Port Phillip Bay area.
“We taught more than 1,200 nippers about marine mammals in the bay and the impact of litter on these animals such as death brought about by ingestion and entanglements.
“It was important to present these relatively complex issues in a way that could be understood by all age groups and give them simple ways to reduce litter. Nippers received reusable bags and drink bottles to help them rethink their attitude towards single-use plastics.
“We find this age group to be very interested in the marine environment, especially dolphins. It was great to channel that interest into genuine concern and care for their local marine environment, which inspired them to act.
“We had great feedback from parents who requested that we deliver this project in schools too. They told us how much their kids enjoyed it which they saw through their enthusiasm to get involved.
“LSV felt the program aligned well with their own education program. LSV is primarily volunteer-led so they appreciated us taking the lead on this. LSV asked us to continue the program and more clubs have since asked to get involved.
“This lack of time and resources of LSV volunteers sometimes made it hard to connect and coordinate with clubs. In some cases, we had out-of-date emails or club emails weren’t checked. But we managed to work through these issues to deliver the program successfully.”
Nippers at some clubs and their parents helped clean up their local beach and audited the types of litter found, sharing their results with the National Marine Debris Database.
“Our litter audits reinforced our project message that most plastic marine debris and litter is made up of single-use plastics and can be eradicated through consumer choice,” said Kate.
“We had planned to do this across all clubs but unsafe weather conditions such as strong winds sometimes forced us to cancel our litter audits and behaviour surveys.”
“We gave each club portable segregated rubbish and recycling beach bins with ‘Bin Not Bay’ flags to make them visible.
“We observed double the amount of correct litter disposal where we added a ‘Bin Not Bay’ bin to the beach, even though most locations already had public and council bins. It seems that increasing accessible waste facilities on beaches does promote positive litter behaviour.
“However, our litter audit showed that marine debris and litter may not come from beaches but from other nearby density areas. We need longer term studies covering different seasons to work out where litter is coming from."
“Although we hadn’t planned to engage parents directly, their close involvement with LSV meant that they also learned about negative consumer choices such as single-use coffee cups and drink bottles. They were also keen to volunteer for beach clean-up activities. That was a great outcome for us.
“Another unexpected bonus for our foundation is the increase in reports of marine mammal sightings. Sightings come from LSV club members who now see us as the primary source for sighting information, or from members of the public who found out about us through word of mouth or the ‘Bin Not Bay’ program.”
“Given the success of this project, we are now looking for more funding to keep going with existing and new LSV clubs.
“We are self-funding a pilot with the Sea Scouts which has been extremely successful. So, extending the program to other community groups is on our radar. We would also like to work with primary and secondary schools across Victoria.
“We are keen to buy a portable community information and display trailer with visual displays on marine mammals, their environment and the threat of marine debris and litter. This ‘pop-up’ information kiosk will help us engage the community more widely and can be used at community events and festivals such as the Frankston Waterfront festival.
“This is a really valuable program that could have a big impact on our local marine environment and beyond. Hopefully the dolphins are here to stay.”
Contact Dr Kate Charlton-Robb at the Australian Marine Mammal Foundation on 0416 227 575 or email@example.com
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