University of Queensland marine biologist Dr Kathy Townsend has recently been awarded an international fellowship for her work researching the threats to marine turtles along the coast of Queensland.
Presented by Earthwatch Institute, the Goldring Emerging Marine Scientist Fellowship supports promising early-career researchers and professionals who are committed to the creation of a sustainable environment through science, public education, and collaborative partnerships.
Dr Townsend, marine biologist and manager at UQ's Moreton Bay Research Station, is the lead scientist on Earthwatch's new Turtles in Trouble
research project which is investigating the effects of marine debris ingestion on turtles found around North Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Queensland.
Preliminary studies by Dr Townsend and her team indicate that ingested marine rubbish is having a huge impact on Australian marine turtles, with over to 35% of stranded turtles dying due to eating marine debris.
Dr Townsend explains: "Marine rubbish is having a significant impact on marine life. 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.
"This project will increase the understanding of the motivation for the consumption patterns of sea turtles through investigations of the animal's behaviour and visual pathways," says Dr Townsend.
Supported by the US-based Goldring Family Foundation, the fellowship will provide Dr Townsend with AUS$205,000 worth of funding over three years to support her marine research and that of a PhD student.
"Support from the Goldring Fellowship will have a significant effect on the capacity and reach of Kathy’s research and the involvement of Earthwatch volunteers," says Richard Gilmore, Earthwatch Australia’s Executive Director.
"Data collected [on Turtles in Trouble
] will provide scientific information on the impact of marine debris to policy makers. This is an international problem and the results from this study will be of relevance beyond Australia," says Mr Gilmore.
Turtles in Trouble
is based at Moreton Bay Research Station, a world-class marine research and teaching facility located on the bay side of North Stradbroke Island.