Last weekend veteran fisheries officer and avid marine photographer Brett Vercoe went looking for dugongs in Moreton Bay, and discovered two things that shocked and surprised him.
The seagrass beds of the bay, a marine park off the Queensland capital of Brisbane, are a prime grazing area for sea cows, an herbivorous marine mammal, and the only place in the world where they can be seen close to a major city.
Australia is the only place in the world where dugongs are not endangered, although they’re still classified as a threatened species, with an estimated 80,000 in Australian waters.
Vercoe found them, and then he found something that horrified him at Moreton Banks, the shallow waters west of the southern end of Moreton Island – dead green turtles that drowned after becoming ensnared in rope and wreckage dumped in the bay.
Here’s the footage the NSW DPI Fisheries officer, who works at the Solitary Islands Marine Park off Coffs Harbour in NSW, took.
As distressing as it is, Vercoe says that “if that’s what it takes to make people think before dumping their rubbish in the ocean so be it”.
Speaking to Business Insider, Vercoe said it looked like the turtles had been dead for about a week, and the rust starting to show up on the debris in the water suggests it had been there since at least September.
He alerted the Queensland National Parks & Wildlife Service to the problem and they’re sending a clean-up team out to the site at Amity Banks, off North Stradbroke Island today.
Vercoe said it’s a reminder that while the ocean from above seems like a bottomless pit, dumping waste in it can kill.
“Ropes and plastic are hugely detrimental not just to turtles but all sorts of marine life,” he said.
The marine photographer hopes people will think twice before throwing rubbish over the side.
But he also made another unexpected discovery about the area last weekend – it’s also home to the biggest bale of turtles he’s ever seen.
“What blew me away was sheer volume of green turtles in the area. There are literally thousands there and I had no idea,” he said. “They’re obviously there for the sea grasses, but it’s incredible to see that many turtles swimming about and then up look up and see the Brisbane skyline.”
The dugongs in the area are also special, Vercoe says, and also a reminder to people to take care. Every animal he saw had evidence of propeller strikes on its body.
“They’re an incredible animal and to have them just off the city, where people can easily come and see them, is incredibly special,” he said.
“They’re worth looking after.”
Here are some of the “mermaids” he filmed in Moreton Bay.