Hinchinbrook Island beach clean-up

Hinchinbrook Island lies just off the coast between Ingham and Cardwell. It’s a National Park, with strict limits on camping and (usually) a waiting list of walkers wanting to hike the Thorsborne Trail. Its inner (western) coast is a shallow mangrove-fringed channel, while its outer (eastern) coast is spectacularly beautiful, with rugged mountains rising behind a series of sandy beaches. Those beaches, sadly, accumulate as much marine debris as our mainland beaches.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is a relatively new environmental NGO, an “Australia-wide not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris,” as their website says. They keep themselves busy: their events page lists, for example, 19 days of beach clean-ups in October alone.

Four of those days were dedicated to Ramsay Bay on the outer northern coast of Hinchinbrook Island. A dozen of their volunteers camped on nearby Goold Island and worked all four days, Thursday-Sunday. The rest of us (I was lucky enough to join them for the Sunday) were day-trippers, meeting the boat at the Cardwell jetty at 7 a.m. and returning there in the middle of the afternoon, on Saturday, Sunday, or both. We were a mixed bunch (which I think is a Good Thing) with a lot of people in their 20s, a few teenagers, and the rest ranging up to their 70s for a total of about 25 friendly, positive people on the Sunday.

The boat took us through the mangroves to the pontoon and walkway and we carried our gear over the narrow isthmus (see map) to Ramsay Bay. The weather was gorgeous and so was the scenery.

ramsay bay beach
Planning meeting, Ramsay Bay. The dot at centre right is indeed a person.
Beachcombers in action, each with a rubbish bag; Mt Bowen in the background


We worked on the long middle section of the bay and, as you can see, there wasn’t much debris on the beach itself. There was much more trapped behind the first low dune front. Quite a variety, too: glass and plastic bottles, of course; styrofoam boxes, a gas bottle, scraps of plastic rope, thongs, poly pipe; and far more tiny scraps of sun-rotted plastic than we would have liked.

bottle with barnacles
Bottle with barnacles, newly washed up on the beach

Our bags were tallied and weighed at the end of our collecting: about 130 kg. We felt good about that but the Saturday team, working at the northern end of the bay, had collected ten times as much. That wasn’t because we were lazy but because most of the rubbish drifting up or down the bay gets trapped in the hook at the end. (I helped on a similar clean-up, with Reef HQ Aquarium volunteers, 15 years ago and we found the same thing.)

ramsay bay beach
Lunch on the beach

Saturday’s rubbish was taken off the beach by boat by National Parks staff but they couldn’t help on the Sunday so we had to carry ours back to the pontoon.

This sort of clean-up operation is core business for Tangaroa Blue and they are very good at the logistics. Everyone went very smoothly – sign-ons, briefings, supplies of bags and gloves, boats in the right place at the right times, packed lunches, etc – and that made the whole day so much easier and more enjoyable for the volunteers. As I said when promoting the event on the Green Drinks Townsville facebook page, we were “doing good in Paradise” and that’s hard to beat.

Opportunities like this one do come up quite regularly now (although Hinchinbrook will always be a bit special) so look out for one you can join.

mangrove channel
Heading home through the mangroves

Spring in the Dry Tropics

Spring here in Townsville is so different from Spring in temperate climates that the word sets up all sorts of wrong expectations. Coming out of a cold winter and enjoying the first sunshine for months? Fruit trees bursting into blossom? Sudden wild storms? Everything green and growing? None of the above.

The word needs scare quotes here, or some other warning that it’s nothing like an English Spring, or even a Victorian Spring. I’m going to put it in square brackets: Spring is what Tolkien would recognise, [Spring] is what we get.

We’re well into our Dry season, having had less than 5 mm of rain in the ten weeks since mid-July, and everything is parched and dusty. Many of our native trees drop some or all of their leaves to conserve energy, although some of them (Bat-wing Coral Tree, for instance) do also flower around this time. Exotics like Tabebuia and Poinciana follow the same pattern, so there are always bright spots in our streets and gardens.

townsville from castle hill
Townsville in [Spring], seen from Castle Hill
Continue reading “Spring in the Dry Tropics”


Wildlife is where you find it. Last night I escaped from an uncomfortably warm hall for a few minutes to cool down in the carpark out the back. It was just a patch of gravel, unlit, separated from Lou Litster Park by an unfinished fence, so it wasn’t promising wildlife territory.

However, a little nose was poking up from one of the posts. In the poor light I wasn’t sure whether it was a gecko (my first guess) or something else, but I remembered what I said last week about “always having a useable camera with you” and fetched my phone…

Continue reading “Frog”

Photographing insects with your phone

I was so pleased with my bee photos (previous post) that I shared them on social media, which led to this exchange:

Friend: Excellent pictures. I have the blue banded bee but, try as I might, I never get a good shot!

Malcolm: Most camera-lens combinations won’t get a big enough image of an insect to get this sort of detail. I use a DSLR with a 100mm macro lens (both Canon) and add a +4 close-up “filter” (really another lens but it screws on like a filter) for the really small stuff. And then I take lots of shots and throw most of them away.

Friend: And I use my phone

Malcolm: Some phone cameras are pretty good, but you have to get so close to the insect that you usually scare it away. Practice on small flowers – see what yours will do.

Friend: That’s a good idea. I do a fair bit of flower stuff for my Instagram but practicing on insects would be fun.

Malcolm: Slow insects would be next, then. Caterpillars patiently munching leaves, assassin bugs and spiders lurking in ambush, etc. Then work your way up to to ants and bees. Butterflies and dragonflies? Only while sleeping, I think.

Friend: Oh dear. I am really not in need of another obsession…

Malcolm: But this is one that can fill in your free time while you’re waiting for a bus or a friend to turn up. All you need is your phone, some sunshine, and any scrap of garden…

My phone is nothing special – mid-range Chinese and three years old – but after that conversation I had to take it for a walk around the garden to see what it could do.

Continue reading “Photographing insects with your phone”

An abundance of bees

An abundance of native bees, that is. Australia has about 2000 species of them, according to Terry Houston’s Guide, and recently I seem to have most of them in my own garden.

I exaggerate, of course, but I know I have more than I can keep up with. In the last few days alone, for instance, I’ve caught four species feeding on Coleus flowers at once. Here they are.

Blue-banded Bee

blue-banded bee in flight
Blue-banded bee heading for a coleus flower, with its tongue already extended

Continue reading “An abundance of bees”