Marine biologist’s mission to create a generation of ocean conservationists

Ted Brambleby drove along the Australian east coast in the 1960s with jars of dead sea snakes, shark pups and whale bones in the back of his car.

He would open the boot and give impromptu marine biology lessons to scuba divers in beach car parks before they entered the water.

“They call the sea ‘land’s end’, which is something in my psyche,” he said.

“If you can walk in a certain direction and suddenly come to the end of all the busy and white noise of humanity that’s a big thing.

“You can stand there on the beach and look out to sea and see a lot of waves, you see the ocean itself, but very rarely does anyone see what’s underneath it, and that’s the big problem today, people are ignorant of what’s underneath it.”

Now his hundreds of preserved specimens, which may be the largest personal collection in Australia, fills a museum in the northern New South Wales village of Hastings Point.

However, it’s not just an eye-opening showcase of shark teeth and petrified sponges.

The marine biologist opened the Adventure Education Marine Museum of Natural History in an effort to encourage younger generations to care about conserving ocean life.

Mr Brambleby said many of his specimens, particularly the corals, would probably not exist in decades to come.

“I’m paranoid about this museum because I realise many of these specimens won’t be here in 50 years as live animals,” he said.

“The only place they’re going to be is in preserved specimens.”

He said he was frustrated by the current state of the Great Barrier Reef after recognising its threats in the 1970s.

“It makes me very angry, when politicians have had since the 1970s or even earlier to do something about it,” he said.

“But it’s no use blaming other people.

“We have to think about how we’re going to save what I think is the first wonder of the world, not the eighth wonder.”

Mr Brambleby said he was playing his part by hosting about 80 school groups per year, and inviting families into his museum on weekends and school holidays.

The former teacher said nothing compared to tactile learning.

“If a student picked up a bottle with a preserved specimen in it, you suddenly introduce another sense — they can actually feel it,” he said.

“And if you take them on excursions they use all their senses.

“In a classroom it’s really only one sense that has been accommodated.”

However, he did not recommend plucking creatures from their natural habitat.

“I picked a stone fish up off Kirra Reef about 35 years ago,” he said.

“I realised stones don’t have eyes, so I put my hand underneath him and picked him up and I put him in an aquarium.

“I shouldn’t have done that because one of the students dropped an electric light bulb in there and everything died, including him.

“They have 13 very venomous spines on their back, but they’re not menacing unless you aggravate them.”

He said the most popular items in his collection were shark-related.

“I want to get students away from ‘Wow, look at that big shark’s jaw’ and moving to ‘What is the future of these guys and what is their status now?'” Mr Brambleby said.

“We look at a shark and we see something menacing but it’s only menacing because we’ve been conditioned to believe it to be so.

“They don’t come into your environment, you go into their environment and have the hide of entitlement to believe that if they defend their territory we have to wipe them all out.

“I teach students that we go into their territory at our own risk, and we should do so with a sense of wonder.”