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James Busby High School at Athol Beach

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

AUSMAP is digging deep into Sydney's harbour beaches!

Visited by keen swimmers who have jumped off yachts and by locals who want a quiet place to relax, Athol Beach is a small hidden gem with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour. It is also receiving more than its fair share of microplastic pollution.

View of Sydney Harbour from Athol Beach

Students from James Busby High School have been tasked to investigate the secrets in the sand at Athol Beach and draw some conclusions about the implications for Sydney's water and wildlife.

Among the leaves, rocks and seaweed, there are bits of plastic that have washed up on the beach

Run by Observatory Hill Environmental Education Centre (EEC) the fieldwork was part of the Stage 5 geography program, called Environmental Change and Management. In the program, students learn about environmental issues relating to marine ecosystems, what has caused these problems, the consequences and the extent of their impact. 

Students from James Busby High School at Athol Beach collecting water and sand


When sand is wet, adding water will help the sand sift through the sieves, leaving microplastics

When most of the sand is sifted, what is left behind in the sieves is placed into trays so that students can sort out microplastics

As James Busby High School decided to focus on microplastics for their program, the EEC enlisted the help of AUSMAP, so we sent our research scientist, Dr Scott Wilson to help facilitate the fieldwork. 

Following a talk by Dr Scott Wilson on where microplastics come from and the problems they cause, the students rolled up their sleeves and got to work.


Some students even found bits of hard plastics without sieving. Most microplastics are brightly coloured making them easily identifiable. The beach was scattered with blue bits of hard plastic that resemble cog pieces from toys. 


Hard pieces of plastics found on Athol Beach

After the microplastic sorting was finished and the data was recorded, the fieldwork ended with Dr Scott Wilson giving a debrief, prompting students to be less reliant on single-use plastics, and encouraging them to spread the word about the enormous impact plastic has on our oceans. 

Students from James Busby High School had learnt a great deal about microplastics from their field trip and the data they have collected will make an important contribution to AUSMAP and community understanding of the impact of plastics in Australia's oceans.


Written by: Naomi Huynh (volunteer of AUSMAP)

Photos: Dr Scott Wilson

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AUSMAP is a program of the Total Environment Centre, with the generous support of initial funding from the Coca Cola Global Foundation.

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