Friday, October 30, 2009

Back In Brisbane





We’re back in Brisbane today, for merely a single day- tomorrow we’re headed west to Stradbroke Island (“Straddie”), just across Moreton Bay. We left Heron yesterday and then had a roughly eight-hour bus ride back into Brisbane. It’s really bizarre: the main road, the M1, between Brisbane and the rest of the East Coast of Australia is only two lanes with an extra passing lane interspersed every five or ten kilometers. It’s unbelievable that the main artery for 1500 kilometers is merely two lanes. The next two weeks we’ll spend out on Stradbroke Island, taking our Coastal Resource Management class; I’ll also be carrying out my research project there. It’s exciting to finally get to do some work on my project. The internet should be better at Straddie, so hopefully the blog entries will be more frequent (and before I forget everything like at Heron). I’ve added a few last pictures of the island to this post including dive pictures and some snorkeling pictures. Enjoy!

Heron Island





I’ve spent the last two weeks snorkeling, diving, working in the lab, and playing beach volleyball on Heron Island, about 80 miles off the East Coast of Australia in the Great Barrier Reef. After 22 hours on the train we arrived in Gladstone and promptly boarded the ferry for the two-hour ride to Heron Island. The entry into the island’s harbor is impressive- the resort sank a ship in the edge of the channel as a break and the hull stands out against the island. We stayed at the University of Queensland’s Research Station, and we were provided with wetsuits, fins, masks, and snorkels to snorkel to our hearts’ desire during our free time. We had a week of labs which involved activities such as taking pictures of fish with underwater cameras to laying out transects and measuring coral cover at low tide. We also organized a six-team beach volleyball tournament, and not to brag, but we won- there’s something special about running up and blocking your professor’s spike back over the net (he was a pretty serious player). We also organized some beach soccer on the last from which I’m still healing. Playing on the beach really evens the playing field- you never quite know where the ball is going to go. We were also fortunate enough to be on Heron Island during the time of the year when Green Turtles crawl onto the beach in the evening dig nests, lay their nests, and then crawl back into the ocean. The amount of wildlife I saw was staggering- sting rays, sharks, turtles, and more species than I can even name. There wasn’t a dive or a snorkel where I didn’t see something new or exciting. There are tons of pictures I want to post so I’ll disperse them over the next few entries

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Those Pictures

Here's a handful of mountain pictures from my time in Cairns. Sadly, the internet here is so anemic I couldn't add any diving pictures to this post. The first is the view from the highest mountain in Queensland, and the second is the swimming hole we hiked to (notice the people on the left of the waterfall for scale). Hopefully I'll add that and an update of life here on a coral island in the next few days- hopefully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FInding Nemo, tall mountains, and secluded waterfalls

The last three days have been quite an exhausting whirlwind. Things started early two days ago when a group of us ventured north of Cairns to the Mowbray Valley for a hike. The "trail" was about 2 kilometers up a canyon full of secluded pools and waterfalls, culminating in a 60 meter (everything is in metric- I apologize) cascade with a swimming hole. Monday was the warm-up hike, Tuesday was the real hike- we got up at 4:15 AM to get on the Mt. Bartle Frere trail at 6:00 AM. Mt. Bartle Frere is the tallest mountain in Queensland at whopping 5321 feet (really?). That doesn't sound very tall right? The trick was that the trail head started at basically 0, and (rapidly) descended to 5231 feet. The trail was really unique- we started in rain forest and skirted our way up ridges pulling ourselves up with roots and tree trunks. After leaving the rain forest we entered a fun boulder field and then entered cloud forest- rain forest that receives its astronomical annual rainfall straight from the clouds which cover the summit 200+ days a year. We ate lunch at the summit (there are trees on top- boo) and then we stumbled our way back down and finished at 3. Today I woke up early again to board "SilverSwift" and travel to the Great Barrier Reef for 3 dives. My dives ranged in depth from 0 to about 55 feet and from 38 minutes to 47 minutes. We saw sea turtles, reef sharks, a stray eel, oodles of fish, and an exact replica of everyone's favorite Disney fish (Nemo, in case you were wondering). Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the actual dive because my camera doesn't enjoy diving as much as me. I can however assure you that it was pretty unique- towering corals, coral walls, shallow corals, deep corals, corals of all colors, and thousands of fish. I would highly recommend a dive if you ever somehow end up in Cairns, Australia. Tomorrow morning we leave here at 7 AM for a 25 hour train ride to Gladstone, and then a 2 hour boat ride across open ocean to Heron Island, where I'll be for the next two weeks for my coral reef class. Internet may be sketchy, but I'll post as much as I can. Unfortunately my photos aren't ready for posting currently, so I'll put some up next chance I get.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Dedication


This is dedicated to a special reader.

Undara




Wednesday afternoon we arrived at our resort at the Undara National Volcanic Park. The three and a half hour drive was broken up nicely by another stop at a (slightly warmer) swimming hole (see above). Wednesday evening we watched the sunset over the Outback from a bluff above our resort- the orange sun setting over the orange Outback. Thursday we got to visit the Undara lava tubes, which are short caves that are several hundred feet tall and wide, but only a few hundred feet long. The absolute highlight of our time in the Outback was star-gazing on Thursday night- it's truly something you cannot see in the Northern Hemisphere. Alarmingly, you can't see the North Star from here or any of the Big or Little Dipper- I was completely lost. However, what you can see really makes up for it- the Milky Way is truly spectacular here, much more visible than at home. We were also able to see the two neighboring galaxies to our own, something only visible this far south. And all of this was accentuated by the near total darkness of the deserted Outback. Sadly, my camera didn't have the settings to photograph the seen; instead I'll just have to recommend that if you ever find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere, take the time to glance at the stars. We finished up the evening with a campfire where we learned the "Australian Song"- Waltzing Maltida. Out professor also explained what the song means because honestly it's pretty incomprehensible- check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltzing_Matilda if you're interested. Friday we had our mangrove and rainforest exam (whew) and then went on a brief kangaroo observing expedition (definitely my favorite animal here). The Outback is unlike any place I've ever visited- the sheer magnitude of the emptiness, the vastness of it, is honestly scary. The roads in the Outback are the first thing you notice- four lande roads are unheard of, and between the sparse towns in the Outback, the roads become one-lane with dirt pull-offs on the side to avoid oncoming traffic. Driving through the Outback, you come across the stereotypical Australian "bush" towns- towns of only a few hundred with a dried-up creek, a handful of trees, and a hundred year old bar that also serves as a hotel. I did actually see one golf course, although it was the most pitiful hilarious excuse for a golf course I've ever seen. There wasn't a speck of green to be seen anywhere, and there wasn't any sign of people either. Yesterday we drove back to Cairns the biggest city in Northern Australia for five full free days (woo). I'm going on my first dive here and hopefully hiking as many other days as I can- I'll update again soon. Thanks for reading.

P.S.- the previous entry was a poem written in 1908 by a famous Australian poet that I really feel fits the Outback and this country.

The Outback


I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of drought and flooding rains
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel sea
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me.

-Dorothea MacKellar

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yungaburra





Last Sunday we drove three hours south to Yungaburra to the rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. We didn’t waste any time, and Sunday afternoon we went to visit the Cathedral fig- a monstrous strangler fig and then to a lake in a volcano crater nearby, Lake Eachem. I couldn't help but laugh when I walked into the Yungaburra grocery store Sunday night and heard Sweet Home Alabama on the radio- where am I again? Monday we went back to the volcanic lake to carry out some rain forest experiments and for a refreshing swim in the lake. That afternoon we had our first encounter with “the Australian Bush” at Davies Creek. Monday night half of us went night canoeing to spot wildlife- we saw a platypus, numerous wallabies, and various types of possums. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures because I was driving our canoe and I was kept busy avoiding the other canoes (there were a lot of beginners). Tuesday we went to another nearby national park for some work and a refreshing but frigid swimming hole (see above). In the evening we did some work at a local farm where the owners are working on regrowing the original tropical rainforest that was cleared in the 1950's. We got to see numerous platypi and the only other egg-laying mammal in the world the echinda- an animal just like a porcupine except that it can't throw it's spines. We also saw went into a glowworm gave and saw perhaps the cutest thing ever (see above). Wednesday we got up at 4:45 AM to go count bird calls at another huge fig tree. I was tasked with counting the call of Lillan’s Honey-eater (sounds like a machine-gun) and the Wampu Pigeon call (it sounds just like it’s name)- safe to say, I’m a pro now (I counted about 200). I’ve attached a few pictures of the rainforest and the hostel we stayed in (On the Wallaby). Next stop, the Outback!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Brief Reprieve





Today we finished our 4 day crash course in mangroves with a group presentation on mangroves and a reflective essay. Thursday and Friday we were divided into three groups of 8, and each group was assigned an aspect of mangroves: estuary, fauna, and forest (my group). Our group visited five sites where we measured canopy cover, tree species, height, and circumference, number of seedlings, pH, salinity, and several other things I can't really remember along 30-40 meter transects. Thursday I was in charge of measuring tree height with a hypsometer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypsometer- check the last sentence; I didn't know what it was either) and Friday I got to jam a pvc pipe as far into the ground as I could and pull out a very muddy soil core. Friday night and Saturday morning we compiled our data and then gave a 20 minuted presentation this afternoon. This is definitely a strange way to take classes- they only last 4 days, but instead of 1 hour, they last 10-12 hours. Tomorrow morning we pack up early and drive to the rain forest southwest of Cairns where we'll stay till next Saturday at Yungaberra and Atherton. It's nice to get a break, although it's going to be a little short for my taste- tomorrow should basically be a rest too. I've posted some pictures of our work for the last few days, another crocodile pic, and a picture of a flying fox colony we cruised by (I wouldn't want to meet one in a cave). I'll post more from the rain forest.