Please enjoy the selected snapshots from our time at Lochenbar Station (Kroombit Park) and the Heron Island Research Station (Heron Reef – Capricornia Bunker Group, Great Barrier Reef).
HERON ISLAND – HERON REEF (GBR)
HE SAID: Hello everyone! Yes, we have landed “back in Brisbane” after a late night bus trip and catamaran journey from Heron Island. Right now the crew is sitting their first exam – Terrestrial Ecology. There is much trepidation and excitement about the ‘end’ of our study-travel experience. The past three weeks have been…phenomenal. Carnarvon Gorge gives us another glimpse to a past time with Gondwanan remnant rainforests in the spur canyons off the main walking track. The tall limestone cliffs suggest something that is preserved and unique; however, it is abundant in Aboriginal symbols and spirit – a continuation of the past, present and future peoples calling that area ‘country.’ Kroombit Park, while some outback related recreation here, riding horses and utes around the property gave one pause about how intimate the relationship is between people living off the land and the characteristics of the land itself. There are some great firsts for many here as well – just ask them. Lastly, the Capricornia Bunker Group of the Great Barrier Reef, specifically Heron Island. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the program. The marine biology and ecology experience transcended my past memory of it four years ago. The tutors were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and shared much of their life experiences with the group. We took the crew for five different snorkel/dive experiences on top of those for their reef monitoring and reef fish ecology projects. (Check out our locations around Heron and Wistari Reefs: Blue Pools; Harry’s Bommie; Wistari North; Pam’s Point; and a night snorkel in the Heron Island Harbor). The time on Heron helped to tie everything in the entire 4 months together; it was a fusion of all four courses. On top of that the weather was highly cooperative. Sunday was remarkably still and sunny. The entire reef and its surrounds looked like glass! Pictures of all this will be coming as well more details. Thank you for supporting everyone on this journey!
HE SAID: Our week in Lamington National Park has not disappointed, that is, if you like rain. What else would you get when you arrive at the rainforest? Yes, we did manage to squeeze in two delightful days somewhere in the middle when the high temperatures got into the low to mid 20s with sunshine. Alost everyone got to experience a little bit of the forest’s diversity up close as hosts for terrestrial leeches, who just love the wet weather and Chaco/Teva or shoe wearing adventurers. That said, the staff here at BinnaBurra have been extremely helpful in suggesting treks, consulting on forest project locations, sharing their professional insightsa describing the lodge’s Eco-certifications or simply hosting the group. We learned about different forest structure (eucalypt, dry rainforest, subtropical rainforest, warm temperate and cool temperate rainforests); all patches exemplifying these bits were within a few minutes to a few hours walk. The beauty of this place is further emphasized by the array of other organisms that call this area home. Today I watched a satin bowerbird continue to remodel his bower, replacing sticks for the avenue as well as rearranging his blue colored treasures – anything from berries and flowers to bottle caps and bits of wrappers. In the campsite we were welcomed by a modest sized carpet python, which our tutor, Rob, assisted in transforming into an impromtu show and tell/touch and feel experience. Others have enjoyed opportunities to examine epiphytes, trap door spiders, mosses, lichens, funghi, or the complex invertebrate communities under and inside decomposing timber. Being here gives us the time to reflect on how our daily actions here and halfway around the world are impacting this place, it’s majesty and community. Whenever you can, take a few moments and lose yourself in a short walk in the forest. Let it awaken your senses. Now, we are off to Carnarvon Gorge and hopefully a little drier weather.
HE SAID: Over the last three weeks our learning journeys have taken us throughout SE Queensland. Tomorrow we leave the confines of the urban landscape and begin extensive field work in the national park system throughout Queensland. Some of these areas will be quite remote, so our ability to connect with folks electronically will likely be limited. Here are some thoughts and impressions from our stay in and around Brisbane.
North Stradbroke Island & Moreton Bay Research Station. The group was hosted by the research station for studies that encapsulated sand island ecology, mangrove systems and water quality. UQ installed substantial amounts of active solar panels for electrical generation at their St. Lucia campus as well as at their research stations, including MBRS. We were beneficiaries of this productive use of solar energy, not only for powering our electronic gear, but for heating our hot water. UQ has a great site for examining the solar derived energy generated at their main campus. I encourage you to check it out!
Brisbane. The last time we were in Brisbane we fell in love with the river city. Since then this community has been inundated by a massive flood and continues to recover from that event in early 2011. One of the changes we have seen has been a reinvestment in the river as a mode of transportation (City Cats and River Ferries) as well as emphasis on alternative forms of transit. The city bike program reminds me of the Green Bikes effort underway back on the Hill. It is simply wonderful to see lines of bikes available for daily, weekly or monthly check out. In many spots around the city most, if not all the bikes, are checked-out. We were fortunate to find a number of bikes out on one of our walks.
HE SAID: Right now our fellow travel-study crew is engaging in a home stay with families in the Brisbane area, more specifically, near the Griffith University campus at Nathan. About two weeks ago, we had the privilege of having our own home stay experience – connecting with some distant family members in a community around Sydney called Hurlstone Park. Our hosts, Rom and Louise Dortins, were extremely open, gracious, witty and welcoming. Two strangers walking into a home can yield a rather awkward scene; however, we experienced only a few short moments of this kind of feeling one another out. Connections came fairly quickly as did a review of some familial experiences. Many years ago Rom and Louise met my mother’s great Aunt during their visit to Minnesota in the fall of 1988. Many years later they had a brief dinner with my great Uncle and Aunt during a cruise ship visit to Sydney Harbor. Incidentally, I learned that Louise’s father (Al Witt) had attended a small, private, church-related college in the Midwest before he found himself shipped to Papua New Guinea in WWII. That university experience was…yes, you guessed it, St. Olaf College. Rom and Louise visited campus during the fall of 1988, the same time I started my educational journey through chemistry to environmental studies at said institution.
We thoroughly enjoyed talking about family, relatives, religion, politics, parents, environmental issues and actions (or lack thereof), life in Minnesota and NSW, cultural observations and taking in the sights and sounds of the neighborhoods around the Dortins’ home. We have attempted to capture some of the scenes in the neighborhood and around the home with a few pictures. How could one simply not embrace living that seamlessly moves between interior and exterior spaces. On Saturday we followed this same theme; we did the coastal walk from Waverly to Bondi Beach with Rom and Louise followed by a lovely spot of coffee and churros dipped in dark chocolate and caramel. One of the most lovely observations during our home stay was stated by Ann Marie in response to a question regarding differences we have observed between Australia and the USA. The observation was a result of our hosts welcoming their daughters to their home or meeting us for dinner. They simply asked what they have been “up to lately.” The response was a cross-section of life experiences – caring for chickens in the backyard, listening to a local band at the pub, reading a good book, taking in the symphony concert, collecting signatures on a petition to clean up the Cooks River, or planning to see the production, Yes, Prime Minister. The work part of life never entered into the question or response. What a simple and elegant reminder to us all that the whole of us is more than just our occupational pursuits. We met more than 20 fantastic people during our stay with Rom and Louise. As we walked away it felt like we were leaving family and now new friends. A special call of thanks to the entire Witt family who made us feel an important, valued part of the clan. You will be in our hearts and minds for many years to come and are more than welcome to our home in the USA (or wherever we are in the future).
Earlier in the week leading up to our home stay, the crew did a half-day walk in the Blue Mountains. We took the train about 90 minutes west of Sydney and met up with a eco-touring company, Treadlightly. The company story is remarkable (truly environmentally conscious and implementing sustainable practices). We followed the track of a former scientist (see pictures below) and ended with a picnic lunch in a rock overhang near Wentworth Falls. The view into the valley is simply breath-taking. Enjoy a few glimpses from our journey along the track. May you continue to find inspiration in the midst of fellow travelers, family, friends, colleagues and the beauty of the Earth.
SHE SAID: This past week we departed Sydney city central and crossed the Harbor to Land’s Edge. Our accommodations were former military buildings perched just atop the sandstone cliffs. To say it was beautiful would be a vast understatement. The picture below is taken at dusk looking back at downtown Sydney.
As I needed to stay behind to complete projects for clients, I spent the mornings at a table in the “mess hall,” but when afternoon arrived I could take it no longer and took my iPad outside and wrote next to the shore watching the local sailing clubs taking to the waters (see photo). It was simply breathtaking. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to interact with the students and their studies/activities while being able to continue growing my business AND to do it all in such an amazingly beautiful place.
When we arrived at Land’s Edge the students found a book on bookshelf called “True Green Life.” Written in 2009 for an Australian audience, it contains 200 practical and straightforward ideas for making simple life changes that help the future of the planet. While at Middle Head the students practiced tip #29, “Get Involved.” The author describes it as follows, “The magnitude of the global environmental challenge can leave you feeling powerless and doubtful that your contribution will have an impact. But you can join forces with others and volunteer your time, money or expertise to a registered charity. Collective voluntary action is a critical element in alleviating poverty and in winning the battle against climate change.” They assisted the National Parks & Wildlife Service of New South Wales with volunteer projects at Middle Head in the Sydney Harbor National Park. The tasks were varied, but included excavating an 1870s military tunnel and removing invasive weeds allowing the natural bushland to flourish. Two of the staff shared their Aboriginal cultures as well as gave us a welcome to country. While the work was physically taxing they seem to enjoy knowing they were making a difference and restoring both local history and natural lands — leaving the planet a little better for the people who followed behind them.
HE SAID: During the last two weeks we have enjoyed the Melbourne area during a break, journeyed to Canberra to see Parliament, discussed how environment plays into the political process and we now find ourselves in Sydney. The break allowed us to muse on various “Green” ideas, topics or just free form thoughts.
As we reflect back on our first six weeks in country we ask, “Did we need to journey half-way around the world to appreciate how we are inextricably part of nature and to fully appreciate its wonder, diversity and beauty?”
Yes. How can we not see a place where over 50% of the plants and animals are endemic – found no where else on the globe? Along the southern coast of Victoria, the endemism of marine life is estimated at over 90%. You can’t find that characteristic of life near home. The country is dry – usually. The second La Nina year in a row is bringing
mild temperature and lots of rainfall to the SE region, which translated means moving from drought into flash flooding. Australia is perched in a unique climatic zone, so it is highly sensitive to small changes in global climatic cycles.
No. Our travel makes an impact. Certainly the 9500+ miles traveled from Minneapolis to Melbourne left a big carbon footprint, as does our coach travel around the country. Taking lunches, with all their packaging, also leaves behind a substantive energy and materials footprint. What can we do to change some of this and minimize our impacts? Last spring one of my EnvSt seniors did an audit of the program for her senior project. Certainly, one can apply offsets to our air travel or even do work in and around campus to mitigate this. We have pushed for more reusable containers and seek out eating establishments that have strong relationships to small, local farms. One of our favorites in Melbourne was the Affogato Cafe, located on Hardware Lane. The husband-wife team that operates this place were friendly, welcoming and big fans of the United States, especially New York, San Francisco and Memphis. Yes, they loved the music scene in Tennessee and the eclectic mix playing in the cafe was a delight to experience each day. The food was simple and delicious.
Another prompt to being green was not too far from our QUEST accommodation on Flinders Lane. Here you could walk about 30 meters to a few alleys filled with what I will call social, public art. Graffiti artist alter the visual landscape daily – putting layers of spray paint on top of previous work. This ever changing scene provides social commentary, highlights cultural differences, and expresses profound personal perspectives. The spray paint is not very green, but the response of other artists, citizens and tourist make it worth the look.
It would be difficult not to end a few green musings with policy. In Australia the federal government does not have environment or environmental issues written specifically into its constitution. These responsibilities primarily rest with each state government. What the Commonwealth does have are constitutional provisions for addressing foreign affairs, trade and international financing as specified by the external affairs section of the constitution (Section 51). Throughout the last 50 years the Commonwealth has been advancing environmental protection largely through being part of international treaties and multi-national environmental declarations. This was reviewed on a number of occasions by the High Court and subsequent common law gave the federal government more authority in this area. Our visit to the Commonwealth’s Parliament House was excellent. We were fortunate to see “question time” in the Parliamentary system (click link for a comparison with the USA). The images below show the provisional parliament house (white buildings in foreground) and the current parliament house (background with large flag spire and grassed roof). Inside the colors and materials reflect the Australian palette. In particular, the color of the House of Representatives is a grayish blue-green; the leaf color many acaias and eucalypts in Australia. For example, check out the leaf color of Eucalypts globulus (Blue gum) when it is young.
SHE SAID: We have officially been in country for one month. It simultaneously feels as though we have been here a year and a week. It is a bit surreal to feel as though you are living in another country without every fully settling down in any one place. For the month of February Melbourne has served as our base. As previously posted, we started our adventure at Monash University in a suburb of Melbourne, leaving a week later for the seaside town of Queenscliffe. We returned for a week in Melbourne, departing again for an hour bus ride to Phillip Island and the amazing Penguin Parade. Last Saturday, we said goodbye to the students at Southern Cross Station for a week of break. Paul and I decided, for the sake of rhythm I assume, to spend our week in the CBD of Melbourne. Right now, we are sitting in a charming cafe on Little Bourke Street, sipping our THIRD espresso drink of the morning. A girl could seriously get used to this!
This routine of being in the city for one week and then at the ocean for one week suits me perfectly. You see, I have found that I am the happiest when in one of two places — in the middle of the bustle of a very large city or sitting next to the ocean, letting the rhythm of the waves lull me into a very deep sense of peace. So, what am I doing living in Northfield, you ask? Don’t worry, I’ve asked myself that question at least once a day since arriving in Australia! But, the answer will have to wait for another day
Being here with 26 Environmental Studies students has further demonstrated to me the notion that the word “environment” is often seen synonymous with “nature.” And, nature, to many (including our students) means only wide-open spaces away from the bright lights of the city. The city with its cement and steel seems to them the antithesis of nature, of “environment.” They understand my love of the ocean with all it’s natural beauty, but have a harder time comprehending my overwhelming need to be among the buildings and lights. I am often asked, “Ann Marie, why do you like the city so much? Did you grow up in a big city?” When I answer “no” I am met with a quizzical look. They chalk it up to the fact that I must not like to get dirty and would rather spend my time with all the modern conveniences. While, if I’m honest with myself, that may in fact be true, the answer actually goes much deeper.
The explanation is that the city, with all it’s buildings reaching to the sky, all its trains and trams and all its people, personifies nature to me. After all, an ecosystem in its simplest definition is, “A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” Spending the morning in this coffee shop, I have been studying people interacting with each other and their surroundings. Could one branch of ecology be what is often referred to as “people watching?” Is it really any different watching people hopping on and off mass transit than watching a koala moving from one eucalyptus tree to another?
How do you define environment? Do you see stark differences between the lapping waves of the ocean and the waves of people flowing in and out of the train station? I don’t.
HE SAID: This week did not fail to deliver another set of life experiences with commonalities across local, regional and national scales. Yes, I am talking about the political system and more specifically about politicians. Do people need government? This question generated debate about the USA and Australia as a Federal Liberal Republic and Federal Democratic Republic, respectively. My answer to the question… “Yes,” with the caveat that the government is a responsible government, that is, it responds to the electorate in ethical and just ways that keep in mind choices have ramifications beyond the present. National politics in Australia went through a major event Monday; the current Labour Party caucused around the question of who should be its leader and Prime Minister of Australia. Each of the two politicians in question described one another in not-so-glowing terms: a back-stabbing, back-room dealing, power grabber or a chaotic, power hungry, ego-maniac, who could not move government forward. While this played out in Canberra and the media, we found ourselves discovering a positive government experience related to a feathered inhabitant of Phillip Island. Since the 1920s people have flocked to Phillip Island to watch the little penguins come ashore every night and make their way to their burrows for activities that vary from molting to building a connected social, community to reproduction to housing maintenance. Pressures from people viewing the penguins, building a golf course, creating a 700+ housing development and introducing fox, rabbits and feral dogs and cats created a bleak future for this iconic organism. The simple act of tourism and study of the penguins made substantive contributions to the local and state economy; however, the scope of habitat destruction put over $60 Million per year in jeopardy. In the mid-1980s the state of Victoria stepped in and over the next 20+ years created a not-for-profit to manage and conduct research on the natural areas/native organisms of Phillip Island and removed home owners and homes from the Summerland Peninsula – the primary penguin habitat on the island. This took tremendous political will and commitment; it has paid off. Phillip Island Nature Parks walks a fine line – fostering a commercial/eco-tourism enterprise and conducting research on the native flora and fauna. The tourism dollars fund the research! Since that initial political will, very little government funding is provided to PINP, yet it continues to refine its business model to reach ecological objectives, provide quality tourism experiences and to move toward ever greater sustainable practices. Everyone involved recognizes the process takes time, money, skilled staff and a supportive community. The objectives represent a marathon, not a sprint. With many politicians continually fixated on the next election cycle and fundraising rather than long-term issues I wonder when political will may return and in what form. In short, what would a penguin say to a politician?