Dredging in Cleveland Bay. Source: MINCA.org

Hello Islanders, Townsvillians, and fellow snorkellers of the North Queensland region.

If you’re anything like me, you often look forward to escaping the city to explore our local piece of paradise on the weekends.

But sometimes, we may be disappointed that despite the weather being clear and sunny, a snorkel often isn’t possible on Magnetic Island.

I used to think that poor visibility was just the nature of all inshore reefs. But after talking to a few locals, I was soon convinced that there had to be another factor at play.

So I decided to do some researching, and I began by looking back in time.

Apparently, in the 1960s, the visibility on Maggie was typically more than 10m, particularly in Arthur and Florence Bays. In fact, biologists have compared the reefs on the island to those found on the outer reef!

The Island’s “coastal fringes once supported coral reefs equal to any found on the Reef proper” —Theo Brown (1972).

But today, visibility on Maggie rarely exceeds 2m (MINCA.org). This just didn’t seem right. After some investigation, I found that the answer was glaringly clear:

From the early 1970s onwards, the shipping channel in Cleveland Bay was expanded. During this time, the Townsville Port obtained authority to dump dredge material at a new site, just east of the island.

Answer: Dredge sludge from the Townsville Port is placed right next door to our local reefs

Expansion of the shipping channel to the Port of Townsville is conducted to provide greater access to the port, particularly for larger vessels. Unfortunately, this means that maintenance dredging must occur for 4-5 weeks per year.

The blue line shows the extended dredged channel to the Port, while the Dredge Material Placement Area (DMPA) shows the location of where the majority of maintenance dredge is dumped. The DMPA is located just 4km East of the pristine reefs of Magnetic Island!

Unfortunately, winds in Cleveland Bay predominantly come from a south-easterly direction. When wind stirs up sediment, silt pollution from the dredge is blown into the bays of Magnetic island, destroying the visibility for local divers and holidayers alike.

In fact, prior to any major dredging of the channel, the Queensland Department of the Environment established a popular reef trail in Geoffrey bay. This was used as a recreational and educational attraction, where visitors could walk along the reef flat with a map, finding a diverse range of species including branching and brain corals (MINCA.org).

Today, the walking trail has been long abandoned, and the intertidal reef is covered in a layer of mud. Whatever the complex reasons for these declines, near-shore fringing reefs and sea grass beds along the Queensland coast are fast disappearing and they can ill-afford further cumulative impacts from unprecedented dredging programs.

—Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (2014).
Source: MINCA.org

This Port was designed under the Sustainable Ports Development
Act 2015.
But maintenance dredge is continuously dumped just next-door to our island. Annual dredging has known devastating effects on our coral reef ecosystems and is not sustainable for our natural ecosystems.

No plans to stop dumping dredge in the sea

The Townsville Port have a long-term maintenance dredging plan in place, where they plan to continue dumping their maintenance dredge in the same place. Dredging has been found to decrease light levels and decrease coral calcification (growth) by up to 33% (Bak 1978), resulting in the annual smothering of the reefs surrounding our island.

While other ports around Australia have decreased their amount of dredging, the Townsville Port plans to increase their dredging over the next 10 years. The Port is expecting to dredge approximately 6,050,000m³ to maintain the channel from 1 January 2019 to 1 January 2029, and dump a majority of this sediment in Cleveland Bay. See the 10-year plan below:

The Port gets special treatment

Even more frightening, is that the Townsville Port and shipping channel are somehow exempt from being a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Below, we can see an imaginary boundary which has been drawn as an “exclusion area” from the World Heritage Site, despite being located just 1km from Bremner Point on Magnetic Island.

This means that the port is somehow “excluded” from being protected under the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area that surrounds it.

The marine life in this region of the shipping channel are totally disregarded from any protection awarded to the Great Barrier Reef, our World Heritage Listed site.

On their website, the Port of Townsville can therefore say that the dredging “Has no direct impact in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park General Use Zone.”

But unfortunately, the circulatory nature of the ocean does not quite work in this way. We cannot simply build a fence, or draw a line and remove protection from parts of the ocean without expecting there to be nearby repercussions.

Dredge silt being dumped in the DMPA is blown straight towards the island from any easterly or southeasterly winds. Here, it settles on our pristine reefs of Geoffrey, Arthur and Florence Bay.

Partially dead coral colonies covered in silt on Magnetic Island’s reefs. (Reef Check Australia 2008)

Further Cleveland Bay is home to a plethora of marine plants, animals and birds. Many species reside here, including Snubfin Dolphins, humpback dolphins, turtles and dugongs.

Dredging poses a danger to our native and endemic species

The Snubfin Dolphin is Australia’s only endemic dolphin. There is believed to be only thousands of them remaining and they are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Endangered Species list.

Australia’s Snubfin Dolphin: Source: MINCA.org

The only reliable local estimate of population size of Australian Snubfin Dolphins is located right here, in Cleveland Bay. There has been estimated that a population of around 100 individuals inhabits our local backyard (Parra et al. 2002; Australian government, 2020).

Continuous dredging will further decimate the habitat of these dolphins, having disastrous results for the species.

A report funded by the Townsville Port Authority stated that:

“The dumping of very large quantities of dredged sediment in the early and mid 1970s probably played a significant part in more widespread changes to the seagrass beds throughout the Cleveland Bay area” (Pringle 1989, pg 74).

But the report also said we should continue to monitor these effects.

Unfortunately, non-action is not quite good enough. Seagrass habitats are vital for the survival of not only Snubfin dolphins, but also dugongs and turtles, both which have been observed in Cleveland Bay.

Green Sea Turtle at Arthur Bay: by Tiffany Dun

Why are we letting the port “Continue to monitor” the effects of dredging on our endangered species? We already know that dredging in other areas causes habitat loss, which is detrimental for entire ecosystems (Todd et al. 2015, Wilber and Clarke 2000, Gintert et al. 2019, Okoyen et al. 2020, Erftemeijer et al. 2012, Pollock et al. 2016, Brown et al. 1990, Dodge and Vaisnys 1977, just to name a few studies!). Do we really need further studies to show this same effect on a local scale?

By the time these studies find what they are looking for, it will already be too late for our marine species’ populations.

Since the 1883 Townsville Port have been dredging a shipping channel in the harbour. Prior dredge was dumped in Middle Reef near Cockle Bay, creating the wasteland we see today.

Accumulative affects of a long history of dredging combined with the already muddy sediment bottom of Cleveland Bay resulted in devastating impacts during cyclone Yasi. With dredging only looking to increase, along with a predicted increase in natural disasters, future impacts are likely to be alarming.

It appears that it is up to us, the community members and ocean advocates, to step up and have our voices heard.

A simple solution to this issue would be to simply relocate the DMPA site further offshore where it would not be blown onto our local reefs.

But instead of coming up with a solution to this environmental issue, the Port of Townsville funds projects such as the MOUA, which will set up a snorkel trail on the island that is pointless if the visibility is continually ruined by the dredge.

How can we expect to save the planet if we can’t even protect the local reefs in our back pockets?

It is time we unite and stand up to protect our island home!

What can we do?

Write to our Australian Minister for the Environment:

I have drafted up a letter which you can send to our Environmental Minister, Sussan Ley. You can copy and paste the template below and submit your concern online here:

Dear Sussan Ley,

I wish to formally submit my opposition to the placement of the DMPA site by the Port of Townsville, just 4km east of Magnetic Island.
In particular, I am concerned about the dredge spoil and its affect on our local reefs on Magnetic Island.

I believe that objectives and purpose of the marine park, which is to protect and conserve the Reef, are not being met as annual dredging continues to smother the corals and their inhabitants each year.

My main concerns overall are:
– Talk about your main concerns here: ie. visibility, tourism, ethics, turtles, dugongs, etc.

Finally, I believe that this issue can be easily resolved by relocation of the DMPA further offshore where it will not have such localised impacts on Magnetic Island.

Your name. 

You can also send the same letter via email to the Queensland Environmental Minister Meaghan Scanlon here, or express your concerns to GBRMPA (assessments@gbrmpa.gov.au) and the Port of Townsville (community@townsvilleport.com.au).

Students: Be wary of who you work or intern for and who they are affiliated with. Do your research to see who funds your professor’s projects!

Let’s not let large industries smother our beloved local reefs right in front of our noses.

I don’t know about you, but I want my children to be able to snorkel in some clear water here on Magnetic Island.

Further Reading:
Keeping our Great Barrier Reef Great
Environmental and Social Values Surrounding the Port of Townsville
Port of Townsville Limited Long‐Term Maintenance Dredging Management Plan
Port of Townsville Seagrass Monitoring Program
Maintenance Dredging Fact Sheet

In this Haiku series, I describe my surroundings on a short hike down Pace road in the Paluma range. Here, I compare the unconscious mind to the occupants of the forest. The plants, like our thoughts, are endlessly competing for light above (our attention). What we pay attention to grows and can be dangerous or suffocating. When we soar above the forest in the sky overhead, we find peace when we forget our thoughts and breathe.

Film by Tiffany Dun

Slow creeping death takes;
Inching plant’s eternal fight.
Leaves reflecting light.

In darkness damp drops:
Palm shades on the overgrown,
Dark light deprived rocks.

Bright spots reflecting
Through breaks of pondering blue
Meditate their hue.

Light above shaded
Cold within the recesses
A neglected mind.

Preoccupied thoughts
Are like forest underlay
Fighting each other.

Peace is only found
Above the canopy top
Where vines don’t persist.

By Tiffany Dun

On a solo camping trip down Cape Hillsborough way, I am woken by the birds to a magnificent sunrise. Here, over 50 people gather to watch the spectacle and photograph the kangaroos being fed by the park rangers. In the city, we turn to our devices for entertainment and often forget to watch the shows that nature displays. Yet this morning, the sky is magenta, and I am reminded of the magic of being here on this planet. 

Film by Tiffany Dun

When the painted coloured start of morning smiles
For miles and miles.
When the patterned waves roll over sand
Sea to land.
When the kookaburras sing to us awake
With all at stake.
Is when the silent show is due to start
Us a part.

The islands drift, the sky alive 
It’s half past five. 
The light that opens up her face
A peaceful pace.
Outside the gates stand all the sheep,
Fast asleep.
They see the signs and don’t proceed
A sight indeed.

When treading east on the stretch of beach
All thoughts at peace. 
When the silver water covers dark rocks 
Forget the clocks. 
Where the sea is still, and sight is broader 
Out of order. 
We escape the highways and backed-up cars
To see the stars.

By Anaïs Bond

Image by Anais Bond

I want to learn how to read the wind, see how it sways across the fields.
I want to learn how to trust my breathe, then submerge beneath the surface.
I want to learn how to let go when the currents change direction, and the tide pulls the other way.

I want to look into friends’ teary eyes and tell them everything will be ok.
I want to cry as if my tears are ribbons of gold, cleansing my heart of pain.
I want to watch watercolour flow across canvas, running like rain down the windowsill.

I want to feel like a leaf drifting across the ocean, unknown of direction but peaceful within its place.
I want to feel vulnerable like a ship in the middle of the sea, tender to the power before me.
I want to feel as light as the clouds on a spring’s morning as they drift alongside beautiful memories.

I want to learn how to read the wind.

I want to hear the tides trickle over shingle beaches as the day speaks its final goodbye.
I want to hear nature as if the forests are pulsing in a mellow heartbeat.
I want to hear your voice and spin under the stars.

I want to watch the sky as it wraps the world in bands on peachy slicks.
I want to shine like water trickling through a stream as the sun drops below the horizon.
I want to feel pure warmth as the sun kisses my skin and leaves behind a freckle on my cheek.

I want to swim in the river and share stories with my children.
I want to be as strong as a snow gum in the brisk of winter chill.
I want to grow as tall as the mountains whose beauty stands bold in the vastness.
I want to learn the seasons of being the human I am.

I want to learn how to read the wind.

A photographer, divemaster and remote sensing scientist.

By Tiffany Dun

Valerie Cornet is a current PhD student at JCU, where she has just begun her research project in the field of Remote Sensing in coral reef monitoring. Coming all the way from Hong Kong and the UK, Val completed her Masters degree in 2020. She obtained a high distinction in her research component, awarding her an AIMS@JCU scholarship for her PhD.

Growing up, Val would visit her favourite reef on Coral Island, Thailand and go snorkeling with her family.

“It was a beautiful vibrant, lively reef. We went every single year. It made me fall in love with the ocean.”

Val at Orpheus Island: Photo by Tara Prenzlau

But it was also here when Val first realised that our oceans needed our help.

“One year, half the reef was gone. I was so shocked, what had happened to this magical place I loved so much?”

“And the next year it was gone. No live coral, no fish, the reef was a graveyard. We haven’t been back since.”

Val felt as though she had watched something she loved slowly die.

“It had disintegrated in front of my eyes year after year, and then it was just gone. It was heartbreaking.”

This particular reef had no regulations, so it was not surprising that with the many tourists touching, stepping on and breaking the corals; along with heat waves and recurrent bleaching events, the ecosystem had collapsed.

“I felt as though I had watched climate change occur in front of my own eyes. Since then, I realised I needed to do something.”

Coral Bommie by Valerie Cornet

Val’s intimate experience with the ocean is what drove her towards the field of marine science. For her, it was an obvious path –she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

“I wanted to do something that matters, to make a positive difference on the planet.”

To leave her mark on the earth, Val felt the need to contribute in some way. Now she hopes to do what she can to help make the world a better place, reef by reef, and it all stemmed from her love of diving.

“I fell in love with diving straight away – I was obsessed. That feeling of being underwater -it was just something else.”

When she was 15, about a year after she started diving, Val started experimenting with underwater photography.

Porcelain anemone crab by Valerie Cornet

Photography opened up a whole new avenue of diving for Val, forcing her to look at the underwater world with fresh, new eyes.

“Diving gave me the opportunity to photograph things that people don’t often get to see and show them to others.”

She began a diving portfolio, @Valgoesdeep on Instagram, which has now gained a following of over 10,000!

Bignose Unicornfish by Valerie Cornet

However, in the past couple of years Val has been concentrating more on her studies and hasn’t taken the time to go diving as much as she would like. Luckily, she has been exploring the ocean in new ways through her Remote Sensing research.

In October last year, Valerie went on a research expedition to Cape York with Schmitt ocean institute. Here, on the Research Vessel Falkor, Val was put in charge of the deep freezing. Samples of corals, sediments, jellies, inverts and sponges needed to be preserved in liquid nitrogen, at -60°C!

The trip was an exciting one, as the team of scientists planned to use multi-beam sonar to create 3D maps of the underwater topography. In this manner, they could create really large maps at once, in areas that hadn’t been mapped before.

In fact, the Falkor made a new discovery –a massive detached reef, taller than the Empire State Building! The reef is over 500m tall with its peak at 40m, and is the first to be discovered in over 120 years.

Newly discovered reef is higher than the Empire State Building, by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

It was also on the Falkor where Val worked in the control room behind the ROV SuBastian, a 4500m remotely operated vehicle with two robotic arms and 10 or so cameras attached.

On one dive in particular, while SuBastian was 800m below the surface, the scientists observed an undescribed species of cephalopod (seen below).

Spirula by Schmidt Ocean Institute

This burrito-like creature is called a Ram’s horn squid (Spirula).

A ram’s horn squid in waters off the Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia, never before filmed in its natural environment. Video by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Val was one of the five scientists on board working with the ROV in real time. Through SuBastian’s lens, Val was able to watch these deep-sea, alien-like creatures and their strange behaviours.

“It was a bit like being in blue planet – a realm I never thought I would get to explore or discover. It was such a privilege!”

Some more creatures from the ocean’s Twilight zone:

Chiroteuthid squid by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Coffinfish by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Bobtail squid by Schmidt Ocean Institute
Dumbo octopus by Schmidt Ocean Institute

In her current research project, Val will apply the methods of remote sensing that she has learned, using drones and spectrometers, with a focus on developing new bleaching alerts for coral reefs.

While remote sensing has been often used in terrestrial habitats, it is a relatively novel method in marine science. Typically, Val runs into countless problems when mapping marine environments in terms of their reflectivity and radiation. But she is working hard to create a method that is becoming more easily accessible to the public.

Despite seeming to have it all, Val is still trying to figure out her own path and see where life brings her. She still wants to travel Australia and do the things she loves.

If Val could give us any piece of advice it would be this: It’s okay to not find your dream job straight away.

“I used to look down on myself because I wasn’t a straight biologist or remote sensing scientist. But I’ve started to be okay with not being a specialist. Humans are often more generalists and good at a lot of different things, rather than just the one thing.”

“Embrace everything about yourself –embrace it all. You may start as a generalist and you just haven’t found what you want to be a specialist at yet.”

Val says it’s important not to ignore the things you enjoy just because they might not be valuable to your “career path.”

“Appreciate that you have many talents that you can join together to do new things.”

Val at Orpheus Island: Photo by Tara Prenzlau

Val further encourages us to test our own boundaries to discover ourselves.

“It’s important for our self-discovery that we try a lot of different things. Don’t be afraid to do something and fail, or to do something and hate it.”

We are built as holistic humans with different values and strengths. Just as she combined her research with underwater photography, Val reminds us to discover these strengths and merge them together.

In this way, you can create something; a career, and a lifestyle, that is completely and uniquely you.

By Tiffany Dun

Kidaman Creek on Film

“Hold wonderful pictures in your mind’s eye” – Robin Sharma

Caring for our mental health has never been more vital. In fact, mindfulness is becoming trendy -it’s everywhere. People are meditating all the time -at home, in the garden, on buses, trains, in lectures, in the library -it appears to me that no time nor place is unfit for a little introspection.  

But in all seriousness, mindfulness is a way we can survive in this new world of social separation. So here’s a couple of reasons why you should get out your yoga mats and sit with yourself, alone, for a few minutes per day:

Did you know: That the average person thinks around 60,000 thoughts per day?

Did you know: That around 95% of these are the same thoughts as yesterday’s?

This slight glitch in human functioning has led to the great, widespread impoverished thinking in our new world. Look around you. We sit inside boxes, separated from the natural world we were born into. We wear clothes and shoes on our feet which further shield ourselves from our environment -the Earth, our home. And now I’m starting to sound like a hippie, but can you see where I’m coming from?

A majority of people still think that they need to live by these “rules” imbedded into our minds by society. These rules advocate mindless consumption -of clothes, food, alcohol, cigarettes, and where have these social norms led us? To forests cleared faster than they can ever be restored, to mountains of rubbish in our oceans, rivers, and freshwater streams.

Even more worrisome, is that an uncannily large proportion of humans still act as though “global warming” were a myth, like a deity we can either choose to or choose not to believe in.

We have polluted our minds just as we have contaminated our seas and our atmosphere. Of 60,000 thoughts per day, a large proportion of these can be unproductive or negative, particularly when faced with dire circumstances. With around 57,000 of the same thoughts as yesterday’s, it’s almost too easy for our attentions to cascade downhill. What may begin as a bad Monday may shortly develop into a Friday of wallowing in a deep pool of grief and self-pity.

We are captives of our own minds, and if we don’t stimulate them, they act as a broken record replaying the same loops. And these cycles can certainly lead us to some dangerous places.

But imagine if everybody took 10 minutes per day to reflect upon their actions. To think about what made them feel good, and what made them feel not so good. We may start to notice that what makes us feel good is often fresh food, fresh air and fresh sunshine. We may also notice that indulging in unnecessary gossip, or binge watching that new show ’90 Day Fiancé’ didn’t feel quite so fulfilling.    

We are either limited by our thoughts, or we can harness them in a way to set us free. Meditation is a way we can train our minds to focus on being present and reflect upon our feelings. We may begin to see that our moods do not necessarily need to govern our actions, that we can gain control over our minds -as a rider does his horse.

A good rider will train his horse each day, will care for it and patiently watch it grow. Similarly, our minds are our horses that carry us through our realities. Through quiet contemplation, we can take the reins over our horse rather than let it run free or trample all over us.  

Further, we can recount upsetting events and feel uncomfortable feelings from a safe distance. Instead of being inside the feelings, watch them come, and watch them go. Moods are often like clouds passing. Sometimes it’s stormy, and sometimes it’s sunny. But the sky is always there.  

Stradbroke Island on Film

Your mind is like your garden. Imagine that good thoughts, supported by good people, are like spreading water and sunshine over your plants. Meanwhile, negative thoughts are like throwing a bucket of toxic waste over your precious garden bed.

Gatekeep your garden from negative thoughts. Have the courage to delete the negativity in your life, and surround yourself with humans who will help you to learn and grow into the best version of yourself. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you think.

Do you want your garden to be full of weeds, or do you want it to blossom with flowers?

A marine scientist and creative writer

By Tiffany Dun

Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya Siddiqi is a bubbly, artistic soul who shares her inspiration with all who are blessed to be in her presence.

Often one can spot Aliya working in her natural habitat –at JCU, in The Science Place. But when she isn’t doing research for her master’s degree Aliya often writes free verses to help her to express her desire to change the narrative that Western society has written for our planet. She is often inspired to write about nature and her experiences within it. Here, she can create a space where she can delve into the deep recesses of her mind.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya has been writing poetry since she was 12 and finds it a perfect way to put the thoughts in her head onto another medium. She uses her writing as her creative outlet -particularly when things aren’t going well, to release her thoughts and reflect upon her present mood.

“I like to just sit and write and see what comes out. Then I can get a better understanding of how I’m feeling in that moment,” she says.

Brain Coral by Aliya Siddiqi

While we often use the logical and analytical part of our minds when working or studying, Aliya encourages everybody to tap into their creative mediums in their spare time. This helps open space for the expression and acceptance of oneself and may encourage us to look beyond our immediate surroundings for deeper connections. For Aliya, it enhances her connection and appreciation of the natural world and her place in it. This connection is deeply important to Aliya, and she explains how it is often lost in translation with many people in Western society.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Recently, Aliya has been focusing her writing about our disconnect with nature in the Western world, one that is reflected in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are manipulating nature and it is responding,” Aliya says. “COVID is a symptom of human activities: a net result of the mindless destruction we are leaving on our planet.”

We are a part of the system – things that happen to it are reflected back in us.

“We need to redevelop our relationship with nature,” Aliya continued. “Rather than to look at our resources and think, ‘What can I gain from this?’ We need to recognise that we are a part of it –not separate from it, above it, or in complete control of it –and that’s what is truly important.”

COVID-19 gave Aliya the opportunity to write more, and to reflect on what is happening to the planet on a global scale. “I’ve been writing more about our current society. Growing up in a landlocked city in the USA, I’ve seen how many of us are shut off from nature, so the monopolization and commodification of nature is not something most people even recognize. We’re stuck in a neoliberal narrative.”

As marine biologists, we are taught to quantify the values of ecosystem services and our natural resources. This is a part of what we study –how much money we can make from nature. How much is a coral reef worth to us as a fishery or through tourism? And how can we profit from this ‘free’ resource? But it is here, in our focus on perpetual advancements in capital, that we are wholeheartedly missing the point.

Coral Gardens by Aliya Siddiqi

“Many people get lost in the symptoms of the problem,” Aliya says, “but we are missing the root of the problem. We need to decrease carbon emissions –it’s true. But the actual problem lies in the norms and values of western society, in our drive for the constant accumulation of wealth. Every day we use more, waste more, and exploit more of our planet.”

Most of us lack a deep relationship with nature that is seen in the cultures of indigenous and First Nation’s people.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

We have a vast impact on the earth that often, we don’t even acknowledge. In the prevailing issues that we see today, it becomes all the more necessary to deconstruct how this has happened. Most of the “goods” and “natural resources” that are being exploited only benefit a minority of people on the planet, and most of the individuals that make significant gains from exploitation of the Earth and human labor are wealthy individuals who have no real need to use those resources, except to accumulate more wealth.

In the video she made below, Aliya infers that we do not require much to make us truly happy. We don’t need an excess of material items – just a few, small things that have good quality and use. Ultimately, Aliya contends that it is our experiences with nature and other people that are what makes life worth living.

Heaven on Earth: By Aliya Siddiqi

And Aliya is far from finished –she is only just beginning to leave her positive impact on the Earth. In the future, Aliya hopes to aid those in developing countries, and ultimately to leave this world in a better place than which she found it.

For those of you interested in helping Aliya out in spreading awareness and understanding, here are her top 3 tips in making a change:

1) Disconnect from your phone/technology

Social media, in particular, is a brainwashing tool designed to maintain your attention and steal your time. These apps are designed to keep you addicted, so that advertisers can gain maximum profits from your views on their ads.

Your social media feed is tailored to suit your “user profile,” which has kept track of every click you’ve ever made, every photo you’ve ever “liked” and every location you’ve ever checked in. This narrows your view of the world and can create a bubble of misinformation tailored specifically to you. Just think –all of the time you spend staring at your screen is time you are selling yourself to these companies –missing the magic that could be found in creative outlets, time with friends, or experiences out in nature…to benefit corporations and marketers.

Poem by Aliya Siddiqi

Aliya encourages everybody to get out and spend some time in nature each day. “When people are forced to sit in silence they get uncomfortable –but once we get past the initial discomfort we can learn so much about ourselves.”

Stingray Stack by Aliya Siddiqi

2) Put pressure on political systems

Aliya knows that many scientists would prefer to stay neutral in political debate. Yet in order for positive changes to occur, there is a pressing need to express an opinion. academics are more protected from political and corporate influence, and therefore have an obligation to go beyond the fundamentals and encourage critical thinking about how people view and use the world around them, and how it will influence future generations. We should all use any privilege we may have to stand up for what is right and advocate for changes to be made in our local communities.

Octopus by Aliya Siddiqi

3) Expand your knowledge

There is an endless supply of knowledge out there –most of it for free. Yet educating oneself is not often promoted in our misguided system, as knowledge does not necessarily make you rich. It does, however, empower individuals to the world a better place, and lead to much fuller, richer lives. Therefore, Aliya encourages everybody to read widely –and not just about the things you are interested in. Read about the things you like, sure, but also read about the things you don’t like. Try to understand things from as many different perspectives as possible, to think outside the matrix of society. Travel, and have constructive conversations with others, listen to what they have to teach you and share what you learned along your own journey. It’s okay to have disagreements, but it is important to gain empathy for other perspectives.

Question everything. Stay awake to the organized chaos. 

Aliya in her natural element (aka the ocean)

By Tiffany Dun

Gina at Chinaman’s Beach: Film by Tiffany Dun

Meet Gina: A Marine Scientist and Plastic Waste Warrior, born in Germany but currently living in Townsville, Queensland where she is completing her Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.

Gina lives in my house part-time, and spreads her message of environmental awareness through her cheerful demeanor and minimalistic lifestyle. In this article, she describes her journey towards environmental activism and how we should start by first looking at our own lifestyles.

“Just by doing one small thing each day, everyone can make a difference.” 

Gina Karnasch at a beach clean-up

It was on her exchange to the Galapagos islands when Gina’s eyes were opened to the pressing issue of our growing plastic wastes. Here, she found plastics accumulated around islands which were not even inhabited.

“It was sad because the island chains don’t necessarily use all that plastic but are the ones who reap all the effects from major producers, like Asia and the US.”

Often, due to the direction of the currents, the poorer countries are the ones that see the effects of our luxurious and unsustainable lifestyles.

“People think that when you throw it away it’s gone – it’s out of sight and out of mind. But it does accumulate. We just don’t see it – so we don’t think of the consequences.”

Each year, 381 million tonnes of waste is produced. 50% of this is in the form of single-use plastics, and only 9% of this has ever been recycled (2).

“It’s everywhere, we’re swimming in it, we’re eating it, people just don’t care because it doesn’t necessarily affect them. People think the ocean is a never-ending, bottomless pit.”

There has even been plastic found at the deepest point on earth –in the Mariana Trench –10km below the surface!

Deep Sea Debris: Source JAMSTEC

“Throughout our degree I’ve become more and more conscious of how much we use. Whether it was working in beach cleanups or diving after debris events, I’ve always been shocked to see how much plastic there is in our oceans,” Gina says.

We have an ethical responsibility to our planet to spread the message of conscious living. So here, Gina provides us with seven simple ways that everybody can make a change.

1. Be more active

When you can, try to walk or cycle rather than drive. You not only get exercise but you get to save the environment at the same time (so it’s a win-win, really). If you need to go somewhere far, see if it’s possible to car-pool with a friend.

Source: Bikeradar

2. Buy second hand

Each time you buy something brand new, think of whether you will actually use it or not. Check the tag –has it been ethically made? How long will it last you? Enough to justify the price you pay and perhaps the child labour required to make it?

Buying things new is feeding into the consumerism that drives our society today. Often, new clothes are overpriced and made unethically overseas. In order to reduce our footprints, Gina suggests heading to your local op shop for new wardrobe ideas instead. Often, op shops and second hand stores are filled with plethora of hidden treasures –and for less than half the price!

3. Reduce your meat intake

A largely vegetarian or vegan diet is not only better for your health, but will also have colossal environmental effects. In fact, scientists have calculated that just one meat patty requires over 2,400 litres of fresh water for irrigation and drinking purposes –and this doesn’t even take into consideration the feed, transport and land usage required for production (The Game Changers, 2018).

Meat production is the root cause of a large portion of the deleterious environmental effects we are seeing on our Earth today. If the world suddenly went vegetarian, food-related emissions would drop by up to 60%, while up to 80% of land used for agriculture could be restored to grasslands or forests. Further, worldwide vegetarianism would see a global mortality reduction of up to 10%, thanks to a reduction in coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers (Nuwer, 2016)

Making your own food is not only cheaper, but also much healthier. Check out some easy and cheap vegan recipes here!

4. Reuse everything!

Plastic, if one thing –is used as a convenience. Particularly in this time, plastic is used simply because we are often too lazy to think of other options. However, this sickness is easily curable with a little bit of awareness and a lot of commitment.

Gina advises us to be mindful of what we buy.  If there’s an option to buy something that isn’t wrapped in plastic, then take that one –it may be worth paying a couple of dollars to reduce your impact on the planet. Gina recommends buying fruits and veggies from our local markets (which are not wrapped in plastic), and shampoo in bars from stores like Lush. Make the switch to bamboo toothbrushes, hairbrushes and buy drinks in glass bottles rather than plastic when possible! When you do go shopping, bring your own mesh/tote bags and say no to plastic at the counter.

When out and about, it may be useful to have a set of cutlery, tupperware containers and coffee cups that live in your bag or car. Not only will you never need single-use plastics again, but reusing your items also ends up being cheaper in the long-run (at most coffee shops, you can get a discount on your coffees if you BYO cup)!

Further, Gina advises us to avoid eating takeaway foods –not only is cooking much cheaper, but takeaway options typically come in unnecessary plastic packaging.

5. Girls – switch to the menstrual cup

As a modern woman, it may be time to rethink your feminine care options.“Every single tampon is wrapped in plastic – that’s a lot of plastic used per year for one single woman,” Gina says.

One woman will use around 11,000 disposable pads or tampons in a lifetime. But today, there are new, eco-friendly alternatives to pads and tampons. Gina recommends trying out the menstrual cup -a reusable, sustainable option that lasts for years. So if you haven’t already, jump on the menstrual cup bandwagon and give one a try!

Source: OrganiCup

6. Start small

It may seem overwhelming, but the trick is to start small and improve over time. When focusing on minor aspects of your life, it becomes easy to find small changes you can make to your everyday habits. Perhaps begin with having a look in your pantry and seeing which items of plastic you could possibly reduce. Maybe you could buy certain things in bulk, or even head to the zero-waste store where you can bring your own jars.

Some people may think it’s too much of a hassle to live sustainably. It’s true –to live consciously isn’t an easy feat. It’s hard, and often our efforts go unrewarded or unnoticed.

Sometimes, you may find yourself unconsciously comparing yourself to others, thoughts like, “Why should I make such an effort when others don’t?” may pop into your mind.

I’m asking you to look beyond the selfish predispositions of your ego. Know that here lies a greater purpose, one which is beyond the individual and for the service of all living things.

It is our responsibility to change. If this resonates with you –if you’ve come this far reading this article –or if you care at all for the future of our planet and civilisation, then you now hold the power to contribute to our new earth.

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.”
—Barbara Ward

We are at a crossroads: If we don’t do anything now it’ll only get worse, and soon we will exceed the point where we can ameliorate our dying world.

7. Share your knowledge

By simply telling your friends and family to change their ways, you are having a bigger effect than you can ever imagine. Lead by example –your conscious way of living will inspire those around you and have ripple effects on the people around you and your wider community.

Gina at Chinaman’s Beach: Film by Tiffany Dun

Remember that education is key, and although you may sometimes feel like drowning in the abyss of mindless human consumption, know that people are awakening all over the planet. There are reasons to be positive –worldwide mindfulness is improving and a green revolution has begun. Remember that the core of it starts with you, and even the slightest changes you make will have an impact.

By Tiffany Dun

A Plastic Ocean: by Forbes

We are all aware of the COVID-19 pandemic at our doorsteps, but how educated are we on the plastic pandemic?  

Every day over 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our ocean. In fact, by 2050 it is predicted that the number of plastics in the sea will outweigh the number of fish (1).

Predictions for 2050: By ZeroWaste Initiative

More than 100,000 marine animals and over 1 million seabirds die from ingesting plastics each year. Tiny pieces of microplastics (<5mm) accumulate in fish and up the food chain. Since humans are at the top of the food chain, we consume and are exposed to the greatest amount of plastic toxicity. One in every three fish caught for human consumption contains microplastics (2). So we poison ourselves, unknowingly, on our own dinner tables.

Microplastics in Seafood: By Javier Zayas

Yet despite all we know of the dangers of single-use plastics, we are failing to mitigate through significant individual or policy action. In 2020, plastic consumption and use has skyrocketed, as plastic management and reduction strategies have recently been postponed in the interest of human health (3). With the growing use of disposable personal protective equipment and a higher emphasis on take-away food options, researchers have already found a rapid increase in plastic waste globally (4).

“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.”
― Terri Swearingen

Here at JCU, Moe Maki and I observed these effects here in Townsville, as we measured the differences in plastic pollution along the Strand and at Pallarenda beach throughout the years 2017-2020.

Unsurprisingly, the highest amounts of plastics were found in 2020 and around park benches, particularly as more people are having picnics and take-away foods rather than dining in. These findings reinforce the importance of plastic reduction and sustainability practices in spite of the new “normal.”

Today, 88% of the sea surface is polluted by plastic wastes (2). But here in Australia, we are privileged. We don’t necessarily see the impact all of our garbage has, which we export to other, poorer countries. These primarily third-world countries reap the consequences of our lavish lifestyles.

A Plastic Earth: By UNESCO Bangkok

In the sea, a great Pacific Garbage Patch lies off the west coast of the United States, and is around 1.6 million km²  -almost as big as Queensland (3). Here lies a gigantic island of rubbish, where a significant amount of human plastics accumulate due to the direction of the currents.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: By CBS

Here, plastics are the main source of our problems. Single-use containers and wrappers which we use for less than 30 seconds will go on to last hundreds of years in our oceans. Sea creatures are at risk of entanglement or disease when they encounter or ingest plastics.

Most Deadly Ocean Species: by BlueSave.org

Ultimately, while the human health crisis of COVID-19 requires full dedication, it is equally necessary to account for our environmental health. We only have one planet, and there is a pressing need for waste management policies to be enforced as soon as possible. Policies should prioritise prevention and overall reduction of single-use plastics.

Individually, we can also make a difference and be mindful of our own personal trail of plastics we are leaving. Think about what you use and the influence you are having on others. Remember that nothing is more important than our earth, our sky and our oceans.

Ego vs Eco: by Permatree.org

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
― Albert Einstein

By Tiffany Dun

Recently I went on a diving trip with JCU’s Dive Club out to the Great Barrier Reef. It was one of the coolest few days of my existence -spending copious amounts of time underwater while peacefully immersing ourselves in the deep dwellings of the sea. Moments of pure bliss were preempted and followed by torturous cold and wetsuit adornment, but all worth it in the name of underwater exploration. We dove 17 times both day and night for 5 nights, and here, I recount our last, most perfect morning.

Drone Image: by Lucy Jenkins

I wake up to the lull of the boat, jump out of my top bunk and throw on my bathers. I look at my watch -7.05am. I’m late.

Slightly swaying from side to side as I walk through the kitchen, I grab an apple and turn the kettle on. A couple of the students are sitting down munching on toast.

“Good morning!”

And a beautiful morning it was.

A small boat in a body of water

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Dive Site: by Tiffany Dun

One of the Divemasters walks past, “There’ll be dive briefing upstairs in five minutes!”

“Thanks Geoffrey.”

The tanks are already set up so I rush to do the same. All of our gear is kept in big, black buckets. Instant coffee in hand, I head upstairs to hear the briefing.

The site we are diving is Wheeler Reef -a garden of corals and large pelagic fish. Stewey, the captain points to a diagram drawn on the white board.

“I would stick around Shark Alley,” he gestures towards the deeper area. “You’ll see a lot of big pelagics there, then I would head shallower to check out the coral bommies in front of the boat.”

I meet up with my team -Desiree, Lucy, Annum and myself. I hadn’t known any of them before the trip. Now, after spending over 10 hours underwater together, we were like sisters.

“I heard this is the best reef,” I say.

Desiree jumps with excitement, “I hope we see a shark!”

“We definitely will. It’s called Shark Alley, after all.”

We head to the front of the boat to orient ourselves around the reef. “Let’s try not to get lost this time,” Lucy says. She gives me a sidewards glance.

“Don’t worry, I’ll definitely trust my compass this time,” I say.

The others laugh nervously as we recall getting lost the day before, and the trauma of being towed back by our Captain (Uncle) Stewey.

Captain to the Rescue: by Tiffany Dun

It’s time to gear up and jump in. I peel on my (still wet from last night) wetsuit and sit calmly on the side, watching the light dance along glassy surface. My stomach jitters like it does before every dive. 

I meet Desiree at the other side of the boat for a buddy check.





Desiree taps my regulators and inflates my BCD. Everything seems to be working.

“Mask? Fins? Okay, let’s go.”

One by one we step of the boat and are engulfed by the cool, calm sea. We signal ‘OK’ to the boat and head towards Shark Alley.

“You guys ready?”


We signal ‘OK’ to each other and descend with a thumbs down sign.

Under the surface the water is crystal clear. We can see the sandy bottom around 30m below us. My stomach jumps, it’s a weird feeling, like I’m about to fall but instead I’m floating.

I look around and signal ‘OK’ at my dive buddies. When I get an ‘OK’ back, we exchange smiles and shakkas. I do a full 360 spin around, being under the water is indescribable. It feels like I’m flying.

After a bit of fun I get my bearings and remember the boat is due west. I make a mental note to not forget that this time as we head east along coral stack. We continue descend and head towards the opposite, deeper side of the reef.

Coral Gardens: by Geoffrey Yau

Here, we find ourselves surrounded by life. The reef is like an underwater rainforest, seething with both large fish and the smallest of critters. We split up to look at the soft corals, schools of trevalleys and large batfish. I admire the sea fans while the others point at a huge Humphead Maori Wrasse swimming past.

Batfish: by Tiffany Dun
Humphead Wrasse: by Tiffany Dun
Coral Stacks: by Geoffrey Yau

It’s cold this morning so (despite my instructor’s advice), I pee in my wetsuit to warm myself up.

We swim around the coral stack, past a bright yellow pipefish hiding between an Acropora coral.

I find Desiree lying on the sandy bottom, watching some fanworms sway in the current. I join her, and wave my hand over them. We both giggle as we watch them retreat quickly into their holes in the sand.

Fanworms: by Tiffany Dun

I suddenly hear a dinging sound and see Annum excitedly hitting her spoon against her tank. She signals two quotation marks -which I know means she’s seen a nudibranch.

Excited, I swim over. The nudi is miniscule -half the size of my pinky finger, and I wonder how she always spots them hidden among the reef.

This particular species is bright blue with orange and black stripes. I motion a heart to Annum and continue to watch in awe. The nudibranch moves slowly -like a slug, its antennae blowing in the current. It’s magnificent, this tiny creature, and I’m fully absorbed by its presence. I’m grappled by the concept of how such an alien creature exists. It feels like I’m on another planet.  

A picture containing cake, sitting, piece, covered

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Nudibranch: by Tiffany Dun

We swim over a branching coral colony and find ourselves at a swim-through leading to the other side of the alley. I hear another dinging and see Lucy motioning towards a white-tip reef shark, around 2m long. Here, we stop abruptly to watch him sit in the sand. As we creep closer, he swims away in all his magnificent predatory finesse.

Seafans: by Tiffany Dun
White tip reef shark: by Lucy Jenkins

Desiree squeals in excitement through her regulator. We all exchange meaningful glances, our eyes wide open in wonder.

We ascend slightly and admire the coral gardens closer to the surface. The light reflects off the shallower corals, bringing out more of the reds and pinks in the colours. I’m suddenly humbled to be able to experience this moment -as though I could very well and truly be watching a documentary instead.

Coral Gardens: by Geoffrey Yau

We try to coordinate a photo under the water which doesn’t end well. The girls take off their fins and run along the sandy bottom. We can’t help but to move in slow motion against the viscosity of the water. We jump and push off one another to do backflips. It feels like we’re on the moon. 

I use up most of my air giggling with the others, when I check my gage I’m running low. We head back towards the boat and play rock-paper-scissors while holding onto the rope for our safety stop.

5 metre safety stop: by Geoffrey Yau

“How was your dive girls?” Riccardo, one of the divemasters takes our air, our depth and our dive times.

“Amazing! As usual.”


“Of course it was.”

We sit on the ledge and smile at one another in utter contentment. The perfect start to the most perfect day, and still another dive to go.

Exactly where we are meant to be: by Tiffany Dun

Check out the JCU Dive Club page for more info on upcoming trips out to the reef!