07 July 2008


My return home, and the readjustment, has been interesting. I've noticed many, many differences between the Ozzies and the Americans. Ozzies are much more relaxed--the entire no worries/ 'ave a go attitude is lacking--and I miss it. To come from a place where everyone is truly seen as equal, into a place where-while we all have 'equal rights' there is still judgement cast among us based on class, color or conformation. Australia, certainly is not perfect-but your typical Ozzie would listen to what you have to say, find out who you are and what you are about, before judging you.

Everything here in the US is so rushed, as if we're afraid our lives are so very short that we must rush about and do everything at once. But you miss so much doing that- even in doing the mundane, you still have to do it, so enjoy it, don't rush, and do it right.

I have met some incredible people in my travels. I've learned that yes, even one person can have an effect on the world, one person can influence others and that influence can make things happen. What we choose to do with our lives, every choice we make has a consequence, and our interactions with other people can have a lasting effect, for good or bad, as you choose. I know that I certainly suprised a few Ozzies when I didn't turn out to be the loud, lazy American stereotype. Once they realized that I was in fact a person, before I was anything else, they listened to what I had to say.

I miss the ocean, with all of its danger and beauty and secrets. I miss discovering animals and plants and places that I'd never seen, or imagined. I miss the islands, rugged and delicate, intricate yet fierce. There is an elegance to it, in the biology of it. We try to study these things, to teach ourselves about this world we live in, and find beauty in even the smallest things, elegance and order in the cells, the atoms that make up the larger thing, all culminating in the beautiful, dangerous, ever-changing place we call Earth.

14 June 2008

Nearing Completion

My last day on this beautiful, rugged island was spent presenting my work on benthic fauna, packing up for our 6AM departure and relaxing and playing on the beach. Orpheus island was, by far, my favorite.

6/15/2008: Departing Orpheus very early

The boat ride back to the mainland was--difficult-- while it was beautiful to watch the sun rise behind the island, silhouetting the cliffs, the wind was strong and the waves were high. Our boat came close to capsizing several times, and without much to hang on to, it was all we could to to stay in the boat. After a four hour bus ride we finally reached Cairns (say it: cans) and pulled up to the Northern Greenhouse, our hostel. Out of all the hostels we've stayed at this is by far the nicest one.
6/16/2008: Snorkel Anyone?
Guess who snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef? That's me! It was beautiful! I was able to hire an underwater camera to take with me, and the photos are pretty good! I'm writing from an internet lounge now, so I cannot post them, but they will be up soon!
After our return to the city (about 5 pm) Jess and I got prettied up and went out for a fancy dinner where she taught me how to be a wine snob and we ate very very delicious tomato and pineapple soup! Then we danced our way through the midnight market--so cool--

11 June 2008

Birthday, OZ, and Becoming One With the Ocean

Brace yourself, it's a long one!

Oh man, how I love this place. After my few weeks here I'm nearing the end- and coming to terms with the fact that I'll have to come home eventually is harder than I thought it would be. I certainly am not ready to go. . . don't get me wrong (mom) I miss my family and everyone, but at the same time, the independence here is incredible. The country is beautiful- but I've only seen the east coast, there's still desert to explore!! And the gold coast! (west) So I might have to hitch a ride with some hippies along the way- it's all part of the adventure.

Hippies we met before Heron Island!

okay, so the updates:

June 8th rocked my world! We celebrated my birthday in Townsville (which is neither a small town or a big city. .. more of a Parma .. .) Anyway, we (meaning the crew here) went to an Irish pub where the guitarists sang me happy birthday, then to Mad Cow, a dance club next door, where we danced. alot. . AND. . .a pissed Australian got on his knees to sing happy birthday to me , and we danced, and drinks may or many not have been consumed. . .and we danced. . and somehow I woke up with a sombrero. . .What a night!

June 9th was a bus ride, a 2 hour wait in the rain, and a bumpy ride to Orpheus Island on a boat entirely too small for the 16 people squished on it.

Orpheus is my favorite of all the islands. The only thing on it is the research station, and the super-exclusive-rockstar-resort on the other side of the island. It's more rugged than Straddie and Heron, and it's ecology is different and the same altogether. It's a continental island, so the land isn't from a volcano or sand buildup, just a buckle in the shelf, and the reef is fringing around it, so it's not as huge as the other reefs. . .the water is more cloudy then Heron, but better than Straddie. ...Aside from the research station and resort the island itself is all forest. . .and it's full of bugs and birds and snakes and frogs. . .Found a python and a tree frog in the bathroom upon our arrive. . .I absolutely love it here!

June 10th--The day of the Death March!

Before the death march: Mangroves! And no mom, this isn't what you think, it's a tree.

Orpheus has a dense mangrove system, so, to familiarize ourselves with the different species, we climbed through the thick, muddy, slippery, dense (very very dense) mangrove system. We went over, under, through and on top of muddy mangrove roots, and man it was tough. Because of the nitrogenous layer of 'black mud' under the thin surface layer of sand, our climbing quickly got smelly! But it was definitely worth it!

The death march. . .you can only get to the other side of the island by taking a long, strenuous hike through the forest, up the ridge, over the summit and down the rocks to the beach. It is tough, not for the weak, the whiny, or the girly .... so of course, I was pumped. . . and so we hiked, we climbed, we discovered the largest spiders I have ever seen in my entire life, we slipped, skin was scraped, pants got muddy, bugs bit, birds squawked and girly girls screamed. . It was great!

also, some snorkeling. . love the reef love the reef love the reef. ..and! There are more things that can kill me here! woot!

June 11- Today I swam, swam and swam some more.

Today was the official start of our projects, and oh my it was a tough start. . .The project was on benthic fauner (ahem, fauna) - this is basically stuff that lives on the ocean floor and doesn't move much. So, corals, anenomes, cucumbers, gastropods, polychaetes, and clams. Well! Today, we decided to do the open water (subtidal) zone and the reef dropoff. To GET to these areas we had to walk about .8 km down a trail, climb over slippery rocks with clams (SHARP!)

wade into knee deep water, put on our snorkel gear (which we had to carry all this way) and swim out about 1 km to the open water, without kicking for about half the way so that we didn't hurt the corals. When we finally got into the open water we had to measure out a 10 meter line, dive down and tie the line to some dead coral, then do a 5 meter wide sweep along the line, counting everything we could see.

We did this twice, then swam back to the dropoff and did the same thing there, twice.

As we're doing this: the tide is coming in, so the water is a bit cloudy, we have to dive down pretty deep (2-3 meters), remember to equalize our ears, count what we can see, and come up for air!

As we swam in towards the dropoff something BIG brushes against my leg--it can only be a couple things so I'm not too worried, I turn to look and right next to me a black tipped reef shark is swimming. . .it was beyond cool. the thing was as long as I am tall, and just kept swimming along, it was probably a younger one, and curious. .so very very cool.

Reef sharks are harmless, really, so no worries (prounouced, no WAH-rays btw) just don't stick your hand in their face and you're good to go.

AND! It's dinner time, I'm tired, sore, itchy and hungry! And so very very happy.

03 June 2008


A few days ago we were at Rainbow Beach. This is what happened there:

We hiked over the sand dunes, giant mounts of shifting, sliding sand. There was no escape from the winds, it seemed to turn with you as you worked to escape the sharp bite of the airborne sand. We had four hours to explore the beach and meet back up in Gladstone (a tiny town) to continue our very long bus ride.

With such strong winds the ocean was not a very welcoming site. The waves were at least 2, 2.5 meters high. However, after strolling on the beach and looking at shells etc. I couldn't resist the ocean. So, as I walked up the beach with Jess and Heather, I decided. You only live once. Off with my shirt and into the ocean! I got about 5 meters out when I was knocked over by a giant blue salty wave and washed up on the shore a minute later, realizing only after I stood up laughing, that I forgot to take my glasses off. Good thing I brought 3 pairs, it'll be my tribute to the Pacific, and who knows, maybe some half blind sea turtle will benifit from it.

02 June 2008

Heron Island

This island is beyond beautiful. Our ferry ride over was rough, with violent ocean. Most of our group spent the ride with their faces in a bag, wishing they didn't eat lunch. I sang. Because the research station burnt down two years ago and they haven't finished rebuilding, we're staying in
'tents' with bunk beds, 8 or 10 to a tent. Just after we dropped our bags the rain stopped, the sun came out and we headed for the beach. Again, it was beautiful. The island is small, you can walk around it in an hour, which is exactly what we did. With free time to explore we stayed on the beach, watching for sea turtles, stingrays and sharks (I saw a lemon shark, yay!) The water is clear blue and you can see everything that swims by. The sunset was beautiful, with the orange and pink light reflecting back onto the clouds, painting the entire sky. At dark we stopped for dinner, then went back out for more exploring. We saw dozens of ghost crabs, more sharks and stingrays, and (so cool) bioluminescent algae. Just sitting on the beach, staring at the milky way -which you can actually see!- and then there was a blue speck in the sand, flashing occasionally, right there between me and Jess.

It's official. I'm going to do research somewhere like this for the rest of my life. I love it!

We went snorkeling after brekky this morning, again, I'm just stunned by the beauty, the variety and the color of everything! Unfortunately, I dropped my underwater camera, it popped open, and promptly shut off. I'm hoping that It'll be okay after drying out, but it might take a few days. :(

Time for lunch!

28 May 2008

Research, Barbarians and Travel

What a day! Today we finished up and presented our research, released the specimens we had collected yesterday and are getting ready to pack up and move on. Tomorrow morning we finish packing and head to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island. We'll study high energy shore environments and then spend some time spotting Humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles. I'm especially excited for the whales! The population has been increasing, so it's a bit more likely that we'll find them.

  • A note on this: Because the population has recuperated from it's slaughtering (which ended officially in 1966) the Japanese government has requested an allowance of 50 humpback whales for commercial exploitation (sorry, use.) Now, the population has increased from about 150 in 1970 to an estimated 10,000. While this may seem like a huge recovery, it's only 1/3 of what the population should be. A healthy population size would be about 30,000 individuals. So, this request by the Japanese government is particularly barbaric.

  • There's a similar situation with sharks (of all species, really, but especially the bamboo and wobbegong sharks.) The fin trade is just wiping out the population, their practices are wasteful and, again, barbaric and the results of removing the sharks from an ecosystem are catastrophic. Essentially the entire system collapses, because without sharks there's more food for stingrays etc, the ray population becomes runaway and the entire web collapses.

Anyway. Tomorrow we're hoping to spot some humpback whales.

As I'll not have Internet access for a few days, the schedule will be:

  • 29 (tomorrow) Pack up, field trip, transfer to mainland (Brisbane) and overnight at TinBilly
  • 30- Depart Brisbane for Tin Can Bay, Shark dive and seal swim at underwater world
  • 31- Depart Tin Can Bay for Gladstone (and rainbow beach!)
  • 1- Depart Gladstone for Heron Island (where I SHOULD have Internet access, and the snorkeling is wonderful!)

Time for Dinner and then off to celebrate at the Little Ships Club!

27 May 2008


This is a Google Earth image of the research station and the part of Moreton Bay that we're exploring here on the island. This morning we went on our daily trudge, looking for new Holothuria to bring back to the wet lab. After we found our three replacements and got them all set up we went back out and surveyed the different environments, sandy offshore, grassy offshore and rocky offshore areas. We scanned two different 25 square meter areas in each environment. Now, this may seem pretty simple, but with the water up to our knees in some areas, you can get pretty tired.

There are a few poisonous critters to look out for too. There's the fortesque, a fish with poisonous spines on its back that will essentially kill the flesh the poison gets to, the rockfish, a fish that looks like a rock, with a poisonous bite that is essentially lethal, and, my personal favorite, the blue ringed octopus. It's venom is a neurotoxin that will paralyze you (dangerous in water,) cause respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest. There is no antidote, yet, so they're dangerous little things. We spotted one hiding in a hole under an anemone this morning, and the group has seen about six at this point. One group actually caught one, and we have it in a tank in the wet lab (pictures soon!) They're small, about the size of a golf ball, smart and generally stay away from humans, but if you step on them they'll bite, so that's the danger. They're sandy colored, but flash the blue rings when you irritate them.

There are sharks out here, but they mostly stick to the deeper channels, although we may have spotted a Wobbegong (carpet shark) by the dropoff this morning. We have a wobbegong in a tank in the wet lab, they're cool animals, not very dangerous.

We're hoping to get some snorkeling in after lunch today, and there's a shark lecture later this afternoon as well.

26 May 2008

Island Life

We've been on Stradbroke Island, "Straddie", for three days now, although it seems like we've been here for ages. The island is off the coast of northeastern Australia, about a half an hour's ferry ride from Brisbane, Queensland. We're at the 'Stradbroke Island Reseach Station.' I love it here. The sun rises early, starting at 4 AM, and sets at 5 PM, as it is winter here. Everything is so different. It's been warm, clear and sunny since we got here. Waking up is glorious, with the sound of the tide going out (not exactly a crashing) and the birds- so many kinds!- going after their "breakkie."

Today we went out looking for dugongs, that's Dugong dugon for all the science nerds out there, we left at 8:30 and were out in the shallow waters where the seagrass beds grow having a look, we spotted a few noses and tails, but weren't able to get very close. We saw sea turtles, probably a dozen or so, and came close enough to catch one, but nobody was brave enough in time. There were dozens of stingrays and hundreds of seastars and brittlestars.

Just before we left we all (8 or so of the 11) jumped into the water for our first taste of real, cold, salty ocean. Up until today we only trudged across the mudflats and in knee deep water looking for whatever we could find at low tide.

It's pretty relaxed here. Everything we do is determined by the tides. We're often up early in the morning and late again at night surveying and taking samples for our projects. My groups project, specifically, is on sea cucumbers, Holothuria scabra to be exact. We're measuring their distribution in different ecosystems in the bay and their sediment processing rate. Holothuria eat the microbes that live between sand particles, so essentially they eat sand, and it goes in one end full of microbes and out the other end clean. The hardest thing about this is that we have to check their tanks every two hours to see if they've 'processed.' And being my brave self, I've volunteered for the 2:30 AM and 4:30 AM checks two days in a row now, and intend to keep it that way. After the 4:30 check I can get a spot in the showers quite easily and watch the sunrise, gloriously.

Tomorrow will be relaxed, we've got surveying in the morning at low tide and then I hope to get some good photos of whatever might climb up on the beach.