The planned turtle tagging expedition was curtailed due to the  windy conditions. Working on country means that the country - sea or land - dictate the tenor of every day. Today the wind was whipping up 25 to 30 knots, blowing in an East-South-East direction. Luckily we had thought of alternatives. It meant that a few of the hardy, older kids were still going to go out and tag with the turtle team from the smaller boats while everyone else was going to do a walk  to learn about the local coastline.


Turtle boats coming up to Pelican to plan the day.


As Pelican traveled further from the coastline to find shelter for the day, our group set of on a walk down the beach towards the mangroves and the Starke river.


Pelican Expeditions had organised to have seagrass scientist Christina Howley come along for the last two days of the program. We are very fortunate to have some occaisional private supporters that allow us to integrate people like Christina into the program. This same supporter enabled us to bring the turtle scientists along as well. Christina also brought Jason from the South Cape York Catchment group, who complemented the day with his knowledge of water quality and his enthusiasm for teaching. A common thread of the walk was the love of sharing knowledge by all the participants and everyone's enthusiasm for learning on country.




Chris Roberts from Balkanu began by talking about the plants we passed along the way. 


The photo shows Chris talking about a succulent creeper and just prior to that he pointed out the Blind Your Eye mangrove. Esme (seen below) shared her traditional knowledge of the plant. And in fact shared traditional knowledge about most of the plants that Chris talked about. The kids listened to both stories with equal attention and interest. Esme pointed out that the toxitity of the Blind Your Eye (or Mulpil in Guugu Yimithirr) was well known and was as good as its name.  The poison is contained in the milky sap of the plant.


Another one to avoid eating is the wonderfully named Gidee gidee or Crab's Eye.

The photos above show Dodder laurel,  a twining parasitic plant and Goats foot or Beach Morning Glory. Esme told us that the leaves of the Goat's foot can be crushed up and warmed to be used as a treatment for the pain of stingray wounds and jellyfish stings.

Chris with Shaunica as we headed deeper into the mangrove tangle. I asked Shaunica about what being part of the project meant for her and she said- "It's a big opportunity for me, being out in the bush, being away from all the things that happen in Hope Vale. I think it is alright for a little teenage girl like me."


As we talked the boys fossicked and brought stuff out for us all to see.


They found some very cute baby mud crabs.

And some examples of Large Mud whelks (Family Potamidea)


Harry holding up Mud whelks.

 Terebralia palustris is the only mud whelk that can eat fallen mangrove leaves directly. The icecream cone-shaped Telescopium has much finer teeth on their radulas (this is a beautifully engineered microscopic toothy tongue that it licks the mud with. Each tooth is like a tiny feathery bucket.)  The third species is Terebralia sulcata, which favours drier more infrequently inundated areas. The fourth species in the family is Pyrazus ebaneus, which tends to live in front of the mangroves on sandier areas. In this way all four species can make a living without undue competion. (Thank you Chris again for your erudition)


Rodenta Burns on the walk, showing me her bracelets. Chris finished off the mangrove talk by telling us about all the different types of mangroves we encountered and their importance to both the local ecology and the health of sea country. Without healthy mangroves, you cannot expect healthy fish, turtle and dugong. This led neatly to the next part of the walk, which was water quality testing.

On the way to the estuary edge, we passed the Hickory wattle. Esme explained that the seeds were used traditionally to make flour.

Everywhere the colours and intricacies of form were singing out to be enjoyed for their own sakes.

We settled in shade near the water that we were going to test. Christina and Jason began with a talk about how important water quality is for the health of the river, the reef, fish, turtle and dugong. The rivers on the Eastern Cape are all in very good health, especially compared with those further South. The main threats to water quality come from cattle disturbing the soil (there is extensive erosion on the Normanby and other cape rivers from cattle disturbance) and also tourism creates issues from the uncontrolled four wheel drive access to rivers.


Jason and Christina showed how their machines worked and what data they were gathering (oxygen levels, turbidity, salinity and PH). Then they asked the kids to work with them to collect the data.


Christina was alarmed to see an oxygen reading of 200% in the small lagoon. At first she thought the machine was wrong but after calibrating it turned out to be a true reading. This meant that at night the lagoon would be 0%. Quite an extreme environment, though Christina alerted us to the fact that the algae we could see in the shallow water is probably creating this event.


On our return to the camp we saw the turtle scientists again and they took Christina out with one of the kids to gather some seagrass to talk to the kids about back at the camp. They had managed to tag a few turtles in difficult conditions.

Back at the camp some of the Elders asked Jason to test the tank water at the camp. He could not test for bacteria but all the other signs showed that it was healthy water.

Meanwhile Christina made it back to the camp with some seagrass samples. Some of the kids refused to believe that turtles ate it. It seemed incongruous to them. But at the same time they could not think of anything else that they could eat!


Chrisina and the kids found 6 varieties of seagrass in one short excursion. We found 7 altogether from later explorations. In Cape York there are a total of 13 species. The sample above is Cymodocea serrulata. Below are a number of others including Halophila minor (Dugong food). All these samples were found to the south of the Starke river mouth. Christina told me that all the kids were very exited to find out what seagrass looked like and what was happening beneath the water that they could not see. She also spoke about the importance of monitoring healthy rivers.

In all our Pelican projects, we strive to create a broad platform for the sharing of knowledge about the marine world and catchments. It was great to hear from both the turtle and seagrass researchers how valuable it was that they could all meet up and exchange knowledge.
And meanwhile Fangwei had perfected the art of baking a cake in a camp oven!
The doctors had also bought along face paint and my daughter Aurora began a face painting session.
Replete with face paint, the kids somehow still had energy to play on the foreshore for the next hour until the tide was high enough for the mothership Pelican to come inshore and the Pelican crew to go back to the boat.