Shalise Leesfield

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An enterprising and passionate Lake Cathie resident, 11-year-old Shalise Leesfield has been a mover and shaker in the bid to clear our beaches and waterways of discarded fishing line. Shalise wants to be a voice for the marine animals she loves – but she’s not all about talking! This young eco-champion has provided some practical solutions as well …

Hi Shalise. Tell us a bit about yourself …

I’m 11 years old, and I live in Lake Cathie with my mum, dad and pets, which include my tropical fish, Tutu the Chihuahua dog and Tiara the Ragdoll cat.

What do you love most about Lake Cathie?

I have lived in Lake Cathie for eight years now, and I absolutely love it. I love the ocean and the marine life that lives in it, so living alongside Rainbow Beach is the perfect place for me to call home. On the weekends I enjoy snorkelling and kayaking, and Lake Cathie has the perfect place down at the Foreshore Reserve. I also love spending time at the beach and watching the local dolphins.

Why do you care so much about the ocean and marine life?

My devotion to the ocean started at a young age, as my family and I have always spent every spare moment either near the water, on it, or swimming under it. I have a real passion for our marine animals and their environment; Australian Sea Lions and Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins are my two favourite animals.

I enjoy finding interesting ocean facts on the internet, and this introduced me to the horrific impacts of fishing line on marine life. I found out that every year thousands of marine animals, including seals, dolphins and sea turtles are injured due to people leaving behind their unwanted fishing line. Over 1,400 seals, including the endangered Australian Sea Lion, are killed annually across Australia through fishing line entanglement.

This really made me start to think about how much the marine wildlife really needs our help, before it’s too late.

Over the last few years I have really taken notice of the rubbish that I come across around the Lake Cathie beach and lake areas, especially the discarded fishing line, as I was always finding large clumps of it scattered all over the sand. When I found out on the internet about how bad forgotten fishing line can be for the marine animals, it made me really sad – and I wanted to become a voice for them, as they can’t speak for themselves. It became my mission to clean up my local beach in a bid to help save aquatic animals and bird life from entanglement.

I began spending a lot of time on the weekends collecting, documenting and cleaning up discarded fishing line from the waterways and foreshore. I then gave my reports and photos to the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in April last year, asking for approval to install fishing line collection bins locally.

What have you found out about the issues fishing line causes for marine life?

Fishing line is one of the most harmful things that gets washed into the ocean, because it’s strong and invisible in the water. A lot of marine animals can’t see it floating in the water, get tangled in it and can’t break free. It’s also a problem as it takes up to 600 years to break down in the ocean.

We also have a lot of pelicans in Lake Cathie, and they are at risk of fishing line entanglement. Fishing line can become tangled on the legs, wings and beaks of these birds and because pelicans have blunt beaks, they suffer the most, as they have no hope of biting through the line.

What are some of the solutions you’ve come up with? 

While researching one day, I saw a fishing line bin program called Seal The Loop, and that is when I decided to approach Council about the possibility of having some collection bins installed in our area. After getting the approval from Council, I got the bins free of charge from The Seal The Loop program, I travelled to Coffs Harbour with my parents to pick them up and with my dad’s help, I installed them at the Lake Cathie foreshore.

My goal was to provide an environmental resource for our local community to help protect our marine life that didn’t cost the Council any money or time, as I manage the emptying of the bins and disposal of the fishing line collected.

I installed the bins at some of the popular fishing spots in Lake Cathie, one at the boat ramp and the other one on the bridge. People can use the bins to dispose of any unwanted fishing line and hooks, to reduce the amount of fishing line finding its way into the ocean. The bins are also designed to advertise and remind people about the dangers of dumping fishing line into the marine environment. I also love that the Seal the Loop bins have been made from recycled plastic collected from Melbourne Zoo.

I empty the bins weekly and record the amount I have collected, which is on average about three to four handfuls. This information is then forwarded to Council on an ongoing basis.

Where can we check out what you’re currently up to? 

I want to spread the word to as many people as possible, and I’ve recently started an Instagram page @shalisesoceansupport so that I can share with people all over the world the importance of not throwing fishing line into the ocean.

I want to show how just one young person can make a difference in helping save our beautiful marine animals from extinction and to protect our ocean for future generations.

It’s also great that Port Macquarie can show the people who visit our town that we are doing as much as we can to help raise awareness in our local area and doing our bit to help save the marine life.

What would you like to see happen on all our local beaches in future?

My goal for this year is I would like to see more bins put up in other fishing spots throughout Port Macquarie and the Camden Haven.

I have been working with Nicki Julian at Council to apply for grant funding from the Litter Prevention team at the Environmental Protection Authority, that will help to pay for a community education component that includes a ranger to come and talk to the fishermen, to educate them about the dangers of fishing line within our local community.

What would you like to do when you finish school?

I would love to do something in marine science and research, studying and helping the marine life would be such an amazing career. My dream would be to have a job where I could help protect our oceans and all that live in it.

Thanks Shalise.

Interview by Jo Robinson.

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