Select Page
IELTS with Fiona Members Academy


fossil fuels (gas, coal, oil)

pollutants/contaminants – to pollute/to contaminate

water contamination

exhaust/factory emissions

carbon dioxide

to emit toxic fumes/greenhouse gases

acid rain

oil spills

single-use plastic

carbon release


air quality – respiratory problems – premature death

ozone layer depletion



Plastic is no longer fantastic (GT Part 3 – matching headings, MCQs, gapfill)

Tidal power (Academic Part 2 – choosing from a list, matching paragraphs, labelling a diagram)

NB Question 26:

There is a good example of a typical Reading question to get an easy point for GAPFILL.

Q26: ‘This is known as __________’.

Look for a ‘term’ (often with these ‘inverted commas’ or in italics) which is explained with a definition or preceded by the words ‘referred to as’ ‘called’ ‘named’ or ‘termed’.

Key vocab to review from 'Tidal Power'
  • self-sufficient in renewable energy
  • reducing its carbon dioxide emissions
  • to cut down on air pollution
  • to close its gas, coal and nuclear power plants
  • tide, wind and wave power
  • sustainable energy
  • alternative source of energy
  • environmental objections
  • generator
  • national power supply grid


Answers with Tapescript

31 tide/tides

32 hearing/ear/ears

33 plants, animals/fish/fishes [in either order; both required for one mark]

34 feeding

35 noise/noises

36 healthy

37 group

38 social

39 leader

40 network/networks

Mass stranding: situations where groups of whales, dolphins, etc. swim onto the beach and die.

Common in areas where: the 31 tide/tides can change quickly

Good afternoon everyone. Well, with some of you about to go out on field work it’s timely that in this afternoon’s session I’ll be sharing some ideas about the reasons why groups of whales and dolphins sometimes swim ashore from the sea right onto the beach and, most often, die in what are known as ‘mass strandings’.

Unfortunately, this type of event is a frequent occurrence in some of the locations that you’ll be travelling to, where sometimes the tide goes out suddenly Q31, confusing the animals. However, there are many other theories about the causes of mass strandings.

Several other theories:


e.g. some parasites can affect marine animals’ 32 hearing/ear/ears, which they depend on for navigation

The first is that the behaviour is linked to parasites. It’s often found that stranded animals were infested with large numbers of parasites. For instance, a type of worm is commonly found in the ears of dead whales. Since marine animals rely heavily on their hearing to navigate, this type of infestation has the potential to be very harmful Q32.


Poisons from 33 plants or animals/fish/fishes, which are commonly consumed by whales 

e.g. Cape Cod (1988) – whales were killed by saxitoxin

Another theory is related to toxins, or poisons. These have also been found to contribute to the death of many marine animals. Many toxins, as I’m sure you’re aware, originate from plants, or animals Q33. The whale ingests these toxins in its normal feeding behaviour but whether these poisons directly or indirectly lead to stranding and death, seems to depend upon the toxin involved.

In 1988, for example, fourteen humpback whales examined after stranding along the beaches of Cape Cod were found to have been poisoned after eating tuna that contained saxitoxin, the same toxin that can be fatal in humans.

Accidental Strandings

Animals may follow prey ashore e.g. Thurston (1995) 

Unlikely because the majority of animals were not 34 feeding when they stranded

Alternatively, it has also been suggested that some animals strand accidentally by following their prey ashore in the confusion of the chase. In 1995 David Thurston monitored pilot whales that beached after following squid ashore. However, this idea does not seem to hold true for the majority of mass strandings because examination of the animals’ stomach contents reveal that most had not been feeding as they stranded Q34

Human Activity

35 noise/noises from military tests are linked to some recent strandings

There are also some new theories which link strandings to humans. A growing concern is that loud noises in the ocean cause strandings. Noises such as those caused bv military exercises are of particular concern and have been pinpointed as the cause of some strandings of late Q35.

The Bahamas (2000) stranding was unusual because the whales

  • were all 36 healthy
  • were not in a 37 group

One of these, a mass stranding of whales in 2000 in the Bahamas coincided closely with experiments using a new submarine detection system. There were several factors that made this stranding stand out as different from previous strandings. This led researchers to look for a new cause. For one, all the stranded animals were healthy Q36. In addition, the animals were spread out along 38 kilometres of coast Q37, whereas it’s more common for the  animals to be found in a group when mass strandings occur.

Group Behavior

  • More strandings in the most 38 social species of whales

A final theory is related to group behaviour, and suggests that sea mammals cannot distinguish between sick and healthy leaders and will follow sick leaders, even to an inevitable death. This is a particularly interesting theory since the whales that are thought to be most social – the toothed whales – are the group that strand the most frequently Q38.

  • 1994 dolphin stranding — only the 39 leader was ill

The theory is also supported by evidence from a dolphin stranding in 1994. Examination of the dead animals revealed that apart from the leader, all the others had been healthy Q39 at the time of their death.

Further Reading

Marine Mammals Ashore (Connor) gives information about stranding 40 network/networks

Without one consistent theory however it is very hard for us to do anything about this phenomenon except to assist animals where and when we can. Stranding networks have been established around the world to aid in rescuing animals and collecting samples from those that could not be helped. I recommend John Connor’s Marine Mammals Ashore as an excellent starting point if you’re interested in finding out more about these networks Q40, or establishing one yourself.

Key words
  • parasites (also a keyword in Australian Honey Bee listening!)
  • a type of worm 🐛
  • marine animals 🐋🐟🐙
  • to navigate
  • potentially harmful/fatal
  • toxins/poisons
  • follow their prey
  • a growing concern
  • an inevitable death
  • phenomenon


Task 2

Describe an environmental problem in your country. You should say

  • what the problem is
  • how it happened
  • how it affects people

and explain what is being done to improve the situation.

Flip your response here.



Learning Link for word formation:

The Free Dictionary lets you create your own homepage based on your interests and allows you to find word patterns e.g. ‘Words that end in ion’ (like ‘pollution’).

Extra Reading with podcast: The truth about the environment

(Academic Passage 3 with great vocab)

The future of clean energy (FAST but good video)

Micro plastics and the food chain

Facts about plastic

Biodegradable plastic



Writing Practice

General Training Task 1

You’ve noticed that a street near your home has become very dirty recently.

Write to the city council to complain about the street. You should say:

  • why you think this is happening,
  • the problems that it may be causing
  • and suggest a way to deal with this situation.

      Click here for a model answer

      Dear Sir/Madam,

      I am writing with regards to the illegal dumping of household rubbish in Carlton Street (where I live), and the fact that no proper action has been taken despite several letters of complaint from the residents.

      Since the recent change to a twice-weekly refuse collection, people have been leaving items such as microwaves, furniture and even black bin bags on the corner of the street. It has become a serious eyesore and passers-by could easily trip and fall over them in the dark. Furthermore, potentially harmful chemicals are leaking into the nearby drain and the rotting food has started to attract flies and vermin.

      As a short-term fix, I would be very grateful if you could arrange for the rubbish truck to collect all the items from the street  as a matter of urgency. Could I also suggest that to prevent this from happening in the future, Carlton Council issues a warning letter to people living in the vicinity, making them aware of the heavy fines that they could incur and letting them know where they can safely dispose of their waste?

      I hope you will agree that this problem is unacceptable, and do everything possible to make this residential area clean and safe again.

      I look forward to your reply,

      Yours faithfully,

      Fiona Wattam

      217 words

      Task 2

      In many countries plastic bags are the main source of rubbish, causing pollution on land and in the water, so many people think they should be banned.

      To what extent do you agree or disagree?

      Click here for a model answer

      In many countries plastic bags are the main source of rubbish, causing pollution on land and in the water, so many people think they should be banned.

      To what extent do you agree or disagree?

      The polluting effects of plastic are often featured in the news these days. We have realised how damaging plastic can be and there is a strong public reaction in favour of reducing plastic waste. Banning plastic bags would be one way of dealing with the problem. Howeverin my opinion there are other, more effective, strategies that could be implemented, targeting not only consumers but also the manufacturers and retailers of plastic products.

      The main problem with plastic bags is that they take many years to decompose and are often only used only once for convenience and then discarded, ending up in rivers and seas where they cause particular harm to marine creatures such as whales and turtles. The obvious response might be to ban plastic bags. If shops stopped supplying them, customers would be forced to re-use existing bags or find other ways of carrying their shopping. This has had a great deal of success in many countries. But this ban should extend to all plastic which is used in packaging, much of which is unnecessary. Fruits and vegetables, for example, have their own natural covering and do not need a further layer of plastic.

      While banning plastic bags would be beneficial, this measure would not be enough to solve the problem. People also need educating about littering and recycling in general. Many people still do not dispose of plastic properly and as a result, even if less plastic is produced, much of what is in existence finds its way into the natural environment. Heavy fines should be introduced for those who do not respect the laws regarding the protection of the environment.

      In conclusion, the required approach should be to both limit the production and use of plastic and also to ensure that people understand the impact that it can have on the environment if plastic is not correctly managed.

      310 words


      Vocabulary Review



      Although IELTS is not a Biology/Chemistry/Physics/Geology test, it really helps if you understand the issues related to the environment.

      You do NOT need to learn all of these words, but you do need to understand what they mean.

      I have tried to list the essential words, but really they are all essential!

      Detailed glossary here.

      The descriptions below taken from BBC Bitesize

      Fossil fuels – a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

      Renewable energy – any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, such as solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power, that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.

      Acid rain and global warming – Human activities pollute the air, ground and water. The effects of burning fossil fuels include the production of acid rain and an increased greenhouse effect.

      Pollutants – Pollution is the addition of substances (pollutants) to the environment that may be harmful to living organisms. The increase in the human population is also increasing the amount of pollution.

      Sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide – Sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide are two of the gases produced when fossil fuels burn.

      Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced when fuels burn in a limited amount of air.

      Sulfur dioxide – Fossil fuels naturally contain sulfur compounds. These produce sulfur dioxide when the fuel is burned. When sulfur dioxide dissolves in water droplets in clouds, it makes the rain more acidic than normal. This is called acid rain.

      Household waste and sewage – Most rubbish is buried in landfill sites and not all of it comprises safe materials. Even common household items can contain toxic chemicals such as poisonous metals.

      Raw sewage is harmful to the environment. It kills aquatic organisms and harms human health.

      Carbon dioxide

      Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels are used. It is a greenhouse gas that can prevent heat escaping from the Earth into space. Increased emissions of carbon dioxide are causing a rise in carbon dioxide levels, which in turn contribute to global warming.

      People have different ‘carbon footprints’, depending on how much carbon dioxide their activities produce.

      As the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased, so too has the average global temperature. This is what scientists mean when they talk about global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities have increased the amount of this gas in the atmosphere

      Acid rain damages the waxy layer on the leaves of trees. This makes it more difficult for trees to absorb the minerals they need for healthy growth and they may die. Acid rain also makes rivers and lakes too acidic for some aquatic life to survive.

      CFCs – In the past, chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs were widely used in aerosol cans, refrigerators and insulating materials. CFCs destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere, leading to ozone depletion. This causes increased levels of ultraviolet light to reach the Earth’s surface.

      Air pollution

      The most common source of air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels. This usually happens in vehicle engines and power stations.

      Sulfur dioxide is released if the fuel contains sulfur compounds. This gas contributes to acid rain.

      Water pollution

      Oil spills cause a lot of harm to the environment, both at sea and on land.

      Water pollution is caused by the discharge of harmful substances into rivers, lakes and seas.

      Many aquatic invertebrate animals cannot survive in polluted water, so their presence or absence indicates the extent to which a body of water is polluted.


      Farming causes the production of methane and nitrous oxide.

      • Rice paddy fields produce methane, as do cattle. As the number of rice fields and cattle have increased, so has the amount of methane in the atmosphere.
      • Nitrous oxide is released from animal waste and as a result of using fertilisers for crops.

      Using fuels

      Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide when they are burned. When land is cleared for timber and farms (deforestation), there are fewer trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis.

      If the fallen trees are burned or left to rot, additional carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. These factors are particularly important in tropical areas, where forests might be cleared to make way for cattle farms. Then, not only are fewer trees left to absorb carbon dioxide, but the burning trees release carbon dioxide and the cattle release methane.

      Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. 

      The term non-biodegradable describes substances that do not break down to a natural, environmentally safe condition over time by biological processes. In other words, non-biodegradable materials do not decay. 

      Ozone depletion: gradual thinning of Earth ’s ozone layer in the upper atmosphere caused by the release of chemical compounds containing gaseous chlorine or bromine from industry and other human activities.

      Soil erosion is the wearing away of land surface by the action of natural agencies, such as water and wind.

      Oil spill: an escape of oil into the sea or other body of water.

      The Greenhouse Effect

      Greenhouse gases

      Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb heat energy and prevent it escaping into space. This keeps the Earth warmer than it would be without these gases. Greenhouse gases are not a bad thing in themselves, but too much of them in the atmosphere leads to an increase in the greenhouse effect and global warming. There are many greenhouse gases but these are some of the most important:

      • water vapour, H2O
      • carbon dioxide, CO2
      • methane, CH4
      • nitrous oxide, N2O
      • CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)

      Global warming: a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.

      A rise of just a few degrees in world temperatures will have a dramatic impact on the climate:

      • global weather patterns will change
      • polar ice caps will melt

      Climate change will cause drought in some places and flooding in others. Increased sea levels from warming oceans and melting glaciers will cause increased coastal erosion and flooding of low-lying land.

      Human activities are adding to the quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


      The diagram outlines how the greenhouse effect works.

      1. Sunlight passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.
      2. The ground warms up and heat is emitted from the Earth’s surface.
      3. Some heat escapes into space but some is absorbed by greenhouse gases. It is re-emitted and does not escape.
      4. The Earth’s atmosphere warms up.

      Need help? Message me on your favourite platform, or click here.

      I'll get back to you as soon as I get your message.

       Back to Home Page

      Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved Privacy | Terms of Service | Log Out