Cairns weekend—SHARKS!!!!

We were all very, very happy to get to Cairns. Everyone had been working their butt off during data collection. The other groups had been out in the woods fighting leeches, ticks and stinging trees (two people got stung by trees!). We all needed some time to unwind. 

That night, we had a typical fun youngster night, going around to different hot spots in Cairns, which is a little funny to say because Cairns is a very small, touristy town. Moral of the story, we stayed out too late for our early wake up the next morning.

6 am we were up to back our stuff, check out and walk down to the marina for our reef trip. Luckily, we all made it on the boat at 7:30 for a two hour trip out to Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

We were joking that we have been living here for so long and yet this was our first time to the reef. Lots of rainforest time (not like it’s a bad thing)! The boat we were on was a huge sail boat with about 35 people and 5 crew members who were all super cool. On our way out, the people who were going scuba diving (including yours truly) got a quick run down of basic scuba. I was really surprised at how little they really had to prep us.

Okay, that sounds bad because at no time did I feel unsafe or unprepared. When we got to our mooring spot, we slapped on our gear (so heavy!) and went with one of the crew members diving. Since we weren’t certified, we had to hold on to our guide’s hand the entire time. I think he was getting a little annoyed with me because I was so distracted by everything going on around me, I wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. 

It was really an amazing experience. I do have to admit, better than snorkeling. You just feel so close to everything and more apart of the undersea world. We touched some (safe) coral and pet a sea cucumber. The GBR really lives up to its name. Everything around me was amazing. Some of my friends took pictures so I’ll try to load them.

After we were done scubaing, we immediately put on snorkel gear and toured around until lunch time. They fed us VERY well even though they had to send a guy out on a boat to tell me that it was time to eat.

At around 12:45, we took a little motor boat to the island and spent some time walking around. There’s a really nice resort there (us hooligans were not allowed in) and a crocodile sanctuary where they have the largest croc in captivity. I was feeling cheap and didn’t pay the $20 to enter.

NOW comes the highlight of the highlight. We come back to the boat and again, get our snorkeling stuff on for 45 more minutes of exploring. The guides were being goofs and throwing in some food to attract some large sport fish, which were really large and aggressive. So we were swimming in this school of huge fish when DAH DAH DAH a REEF SHARK shows up!!! He/she was like 5ft long and was not scared of us. I was probably a little too confident and almost touched him. Then I thought the better of it. “Hey Elena, how did you lose your hand?” “Oh I was petting a reef shark”

Then there was another one that came along and swam with us. I feel like this was a highlight of my life. It was really amazing. I was pretty terrified and learned after that reef sharks are actually more aggressive than I thought. Yikes. But worth it. Would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Snorkeled a little more and then took the trip back to the mainland. Oh and we thought we were burned in Mission Beach-THINK AGAIN. I’m still burnt. Yes mom, I did put on sunscreen, but it was impossible to escape the rays. I am in pain now. Again, so worth it.

So now, the past few days have just been writing. Tomorrow we’re going to JCU to write in peace. Ha just wrote three blog posts, probably should get back to real writing…


Mission Beach (Last interviews!)

We got to finish our surveys in style as we went to Mission Beach for our final interviews.

As the name suggests, it has many a beach. It has many a beautiful, beautiful beach. On our first day there, we had a little bit of trouble finding our hostel so we didn’t get to any interviews but just acquainted ourselves with the area, which no one was mad about. We did a short hike and then toured around the city. That night, we barbecued on the beach and just hung out. It was quite amazing. Our hostel was a super cute, super chill place where there seemed to be a lot of people chilling out for an extended amount of time. 

The next day, we set out for interviews. Unfortunately, this is the off season for Mission Beach so we really didn’t have too many people. We just had to walk the beach searching for anyone. I was buried up to my knees at one point. We threw rocks into the ocean. We worked really, really hard that day.

It was cool to interview people at Mission Beach because it was a very different demographic than what we had previously been used to. A lot more younger backpackers compared to older retirees. I just read a really interesting article of how NE Queensland is starting to cater more towards this younger demographic because although they aren’t spending as much money per day as their older counterparts, but they are spending more time and are more willing to spend more money on experiences rather than material good. Hence the increase of bungy jumping, mountain climbing and other high adventure things of that sort.

That afternoon after we had done some work, we finally took a dip in the water. Since it is high time for box jellies (extremely dangerous and poisonous) you have to swim in a designated area that has a net surrounding to keep out the stingers. Since we were living in the cool, shady rainforest, we were not used to the harsh sun beating down on us. At the end of the day, our skin was very scorched. It was bad. Or so we thought….

Saturday, we got up early, did a few more interviews and then at 1 left for our Cairns weekend. Continue reading for more information…


Sorry it’s been so long since a post, but we’re finally done with our data collection! So just a brief account about our time in Kuranda.

Kuranda is a small town just outside of Cairns. The whole economy is tourism based: streets and streets of shops, bird sanctuaries, koala caring places, etc.

It was really interesting to see the difference between the previous places that we were and Kuranda. People were a lot meaner. Not like we got sass from anyone, but people were so ready to go shop that they didn’t even acknowledge our presence at times. I think it’s a city thing compared to a nature-y thing. Bad generalization to make, but actually kind of true.

The first day we were there it poured for a while so we really didn’t get too many surveys. The second day it was nicer, but still really slow for both days. We got a decent amount in (60) but I was happy to not talk to too many many. I actually had one woman say okay lets get this over with. AND she went to UW med school and when I got all excited about it (her daughter was wearing UW shorts) she was less than enthused. They were actually from New York, so not giving Wisconsin a bad name.

Kuranda is a really cute town, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of shopping, but we’re going back with the whole group on Sunday, so friends and family may be getting presents….. 


Just a reflection

So all day today, we were entering our data and I realized that it was November 11th. 

That terrified me. 

My mom has been talking about how soon it is that she will be over here (and it is!) but it’s strange to me to think that this isn’t my “life.” I have grown so used to this environment and the people that thinking about home and, oh yeah, REAL school is such a foreign concept. 

I know these next two weeks will go fast, way too fast. But, on second thought, I still have time! There are so many awesome things to look forward to: Mission Beach, Cairns, Kuranda, actually writing this paper that I have been working hard on, presenting to the community and our secret turkey (like secret santa but on Thanksgiving).

I’m glad I actually have pictures to look back on from my time here. I put up some new ones from Melbourne and a couple other random things. Enjoy! 



140 surveys AND A CASSOWARY

Yup, after three days we have 140 surveys completed. We are trying to get up to 200, so we have a great start. 

On Thursday, we traveled to Mossman Gorge and surveyed all day. We got 66 that day. We killed it. I was really surprised at how willing people were to talk and answer questions. I would absolutely have said no if someone walked up to me asking me to take a survey about their my time somewhere.

Most people also had really interesting things to say. They commented extensively on questions like in your opinion, what do you think is the greatest threat to the World Heritage Area. The overwhelming response was humans. Human activities, tourists, development. Almost everyone recognized this difficult balance of ecotourism: you want to expose people to the outdoors and educate them, but don’t want too many people coming into an area and destroying it. It made me feel better about people actually. Most were very aware of the environment they were traveling in and understood its importance. 

That night, after a very long day at the gorge, we went to our hostel in Port Douglas. It was very typical backpackers hostel with a bunch of crazy characters wandering around looking for friends and travelers. It was a really cool, cute place, besides the fact that the overhead light didn’t work in our room, but didn’t really matter, we didn’t spend much time in the room.

At night, we got to wander around the town. Port Douglas is a very touristy town, meaning that most people we talked to over the weekend were staying in Port Douglas and doing day trips around the area. It was small, with only one main road filled with shops and restaurants.

The next morning, we got up and went back to the gorge for another day of surveys. For some reason, Fridays are not very busy, so we interviewed in the morning for a while and then walked up to the swimming hole and spent about and hour there and came back to finish up more surveys. I think we got 40 some that day.

One thing I don’t think I mentioned before was why Mossman Gorge is really cool. Besides the fact that it is beautiful with amazing fresh river swimming, it has undergone many changes to make sure that it is more ecofriendly. 20 years ago, people could drive their cars directly up to the gorge and go swimming. No surprise, this caused a lot of environmental damage, pollution, people, roadkill, etc. So, what the WHA did was turn the land over to the aboriginal tribe that lived there and made it so that you can’t drive up to the gorge. You either have to walk or pay $6 to drive up there in a bus. They have seen forest dragons return, ecosystem health improve and decreased pollution in general.

So, here comes the really awesome part of the trip. After the second day and we left the gorge, we went to the Daintree. We were just driving along, not thinking about anything when BAM daddy cassowary and his chick come out of the forest and cross the road right in front of us. If you don’t know what a cassowary is, google it. They are HUGE birds (2 meters tall) and can rip your guts out with their talons. They’re badass.

Cassowaries are endangered which is really scary because they’re also keystone species in the rainforest. They are excellent seed dispersers and actually stimulate the growth of some seeds after they pass through their body. Without cassowaries, the rainforest ecosystem has a hard time regrowing trees. 

Slight aside, but it’s really rare to see one especially with a chick. So the fact that we had one crossing the street was really amazing. We got to brag about it a lot.

Yesterday (wow feels like a long time ago!) we did some more surveys at the Daintree visitors’ centre and unfortunately, didn’t get too many. It was a slow day. But in total 140. Pretty good. Monday we have data entry and then go to Kuranda on Tuesday and Wednesday. 


Directed Research Project!

It is in the final month of our stay here, (I don’t want to think about it) and we are starting our directed research projects. 

I am working with Justus and the socio-economics class. We are looking at tourism (mentioned before) in a couple different locations. Yesterday, we got to go in to Yungaburra and hang out on the internet for a while gathering resources about ecotourism aka, LOTS OF PAPERS.

So started reading away last night and today and I realized that the majority of my articles had to do with tourism and the economy. I then realized that I want to look at tourism and the economy. Funny how these things work out, huh? 

So right now, I would like to look at what tourist are spending their money on and how much of that goes back to conservation efforts. When we were at the Daintree the last time, we interviewed a lot of people who came to the Daintree to just go to the beach. Also, we asked people how much they would be willing to pay as an entrance fee. The responses were scattered and some said they would not be willing at all and others said that they would pay upwards of $100. 

A question I would like to get into, but am not sure if I can is then looking at the cost of damage from hurricanes and seeing if these places should be charging more or if they should be taxing private ecotourism outfitters for using forests. 

Still in the works but that’s what I’m thinking about. 

Tomorrow we will be going to Malanda falls to test out our questionnaire, see if the questions are worded properly, if it’s too long, etc. Then on Thursday, we will be going to Mossman gorge and doing interviews there for a while and then staying in Port Douglas for the night. We are staying in the city center so we get to explore at night, YA!

On Friday, we will be going back to the Daintree, staying there and conducting interviews. Pretty pumped about this as well, the Daintree was amazing and I can’t wait to spend some more time there!

We come back Saturday and do data input until Tuesday and Wednesday where we will be taking two day trips to Karunda which is just outside of Cairns. Again surveys there, I’ve heard Karunda is a really awesome artsy, crafty town, so I might be very poor.

Thursday, we will be going to Mission Beach (which is supposed to be amazing!) and we get to stay there for not one, but TWO, nights until we get our overnights in Cairns. 

It’s going to be really busy and a lot of travel, which is going to be amazing! SO PUMPED!!



Finally we know what the DRs are! I’ll just briefly give you a taste of what the other projects are and then talk about the one I REALLY want to do.

Amanda, the site manager and ecologist will be looking at seed recruitment from birds at a revegetation site. Idea: birds sit on perches, birds eat seeds, birds poop, poop contains seeds, seeds grow into trees (YAAA!)

In this revegetation site, Amanda wants to look at how that recruitment is taking place, what the success rate is like and where the concentration of seeds are. It’s an ongoing project, but important for natural regrowth and seed recruitment.

Siggy has two DRs. One is with tree kangaroos and how they are surviving in fragmented forest. She has lots of data for tree kangaroo sightings and other information about the forest structure, but not much has been done with the data. The people on this project will be working with GIS to see how different data overlap, what trends can be seen, etc.

Secondly, she will also be working with yellow-bellied gliders (like bats). Not much is known about gliders and so she will be studying their habitat preferences, feeding preferences, etc. General information about gliders.

Catherine will be working with primary and secondary succession. In general, she will be going to site of recently revegetated land and gather information about biomass, effects of selective logging, pioneer and climax species, seedling establishment, growth of invasive species in certain areas, etc.

There will be a ton of data collected with this project. Also, other work has been done by other groups in the area to track the development of forest growth. Again, more needs to be learned about succession and how that happens from a natural standpoint and a human facilitated standpoint. 

Other universities and organizations have been working on this same issue in similar areas so we can compare the data to the already collected. James Cook University set up a few plots in the Tablelands in the 1980s and have been collecting data ever since. Thus, we are helping to collect long term data on this issue.

FINALLY, what I hope to do: the Justus league. Justus will be continuing to study the ecotourism in this area. We will be going to Mossman Gorge, Karunda, and Mission Beach conducting survey to the tourists there. It is kind of a continuation of the field exercise that we did in the Daintree. I would be hoping to look into sustainable ecotourism in conjunction with development and support to rural communities. This would be tying together the discovery exercise as well. Thus, I would get a full survey of different tourism: rural farm, beach, environmental and cultural.

We’ll see! Any of them would be fun. But I also really want to travel. 


Tablelands Folk Festival

Probably close to the highlight of my time here. I’ll just have to mention that this would have been my parent’s heaven. A small, not too overwhelming festival (not too hot nor too many crowds for my dad) with tons of different folk bands (plenty of dancing for my mom).

For our free admission, we had to volunteer 8 hours. On Saturday, I worked for 2 hours at the pub door, but not really because concerts were free until 12 so I just had to work 30 minutes and 3 1/2 hours face painting. I did not plan on being there for 3 1/2 hours. Also, I am terrible at art, those poor children. They wanted to be spiderman and I gave them Darth Maul. They wanted a rainbow butterfly and they got lines on their face. Well, anything was made better with glitter.

So like I said, we were supposed to be done at 4, but had an endless line (not for the artistic ability obviously) and so 5:30 I was done. Exhausted and not having eaten all day, we went and got massive wraps and hard cider from the pub.

In the time I wasn’t working on Saturday, I wandered around the markets with Sienna. They only run once a month on Saturday until 12, so Sienna and I were really happy about not having to work until 12 so we could walk around and shop. There were typical crafty-art-produce fair tents with jewelry, quilts and other knick-knacks.

There were also more little booths in the actual festival along with food trucks and the children’s festival.

In the pub, the community hall behind it and a stage set up outside, they had 3 of their main stages. Music started at 2 and continued on until midnight. There were all different types of folk bands, punk, old school, gospel based (which was funny to hear in Australia) and they were all so great. One of my favorite bands was the Hillbilly Goats who played really upbeat folk music. They were on at 9 so we were all quite merry and danced A LOT. It was just really fun, everyone else was having a really great time dancing to some great music. Aint nuthin like live music. Dancing continued for us until 12 when we had to make a long trek back to our campsite. Actually like 20 minutes away. Wow, were we tired. A long day, but an awesome day.

Ok another thing I NEED to go into detail about was this amazing Celtic band that literally NEVER STOPPED PLAYING. They weren’t even a featured act. I don’t really know but they just seemed like a group of people who loved to play Celtic music and got together occasionally to jam. We first saw them outside the pub at 4:30 in the afternoon playing song after song with the traditional Celtic instruments: flute, harmonica and drum. Also, everyone playing was way older than 50.

We then saw them again at 7 in this other little pub, same people, just jamming. They played until 12 that night and had to be kicked out of the pub because they were closing things down for the night.

The next morning after my 9-11 shift, they were already playing in front of the same pub and continued to play until we left at 5. Amazing. They could have been the highlight of my weekend, or the goats.

Or this other band of really old men, like 75+ that played on Saturday night and one guy was in the band just hitting a stick on his chair and another was playing an instrument that was a string attached to a stick attached to a hollow box.

Sunday was filled with work and sleep. We got up pretty early because someone was making us breakfast at the campsite we stayed at. I wandered around Yungaburra for a while and then at night, they threw a pizza party for all of the volunteers. It got really hot in the restaurant, so I went outside for a sec to look at the stars. They were amazing. I instantly saw a shooting star. I had to stay outside.

I laid down in the grass for a little while just looking up. I could hear the talking of people and some music in the background, but everything else was silent. Perfect way to end a perfect weekend.

I also saw a baby platypus.


Sometimes things make sense

Classic SFS and a busy week. So a few new things to talk about, but first, I will talk about our visit with aboriginal elders, Syb and Doug.

Syb and Doug are brother and sister, but not in the traditional sense. They are brother and sister in the same clan. So a clan makes up a tribe and there a hundreds of different tribes in Australia. The rainforest people are the tribe in the wet tropics area. I can’t remember the aborigine name, I would also probably butcher the spelling.

So we went to Doug’s house and they told us about aborigine history and culture. I think I mentioned this before when Doug came and welcomed us to country, but much of the aboriginal heritage is similar to the Native Americans in the US. They were considered flora and fauna in the national census until the 80s, told who to marry, where they could go and if they were actually allowed to own land. There was a “protector” in each town to oversee the activities of the aboriginal.

Doug and Syb were lucky that their grandfathers lived in the isolated parts of the Tablelands and were able to retreat to the forest with their children when the protectors came. They could live in the rainforest for months; they were rainforest people, that’s where they felt the most at home. Thus, Doug, Syb and their cousins escaped being translocated to camps where they would be taken away from their families and forced to assimilate to European culture.

A lot of aboriginal heritage and language is gone. Language mostly. Syb and Doug are trying to piece together parts of their language and write it down for their children.

They showed us many tools, mainly for carving, cutting and eating, that they found in some of the national parks. They have an amazing eye for it. They can see which rocks had been morphed into tools among the millions of others. They have the right to take these artifacts from national forests and parks and manage them how they see fit.

After lunch, the girls went with Syb and the boys with Doug to talk about traditions for men and women in the tribe. Out of respect, I will not be discussing what Syb told us, but I’ll just say this: most of the ideology about being a woman and what that means made a lot of sense to me.

When the genders came back together, we went to a lookout on the tallest point in the Tablelands where the different clans would send smoke signals to each other to communicate. They said goodbye to us and reminded us that we are always welcome back. We have left our footprints on their lives, we are apart of them and their country and they are apart of us. Syb told us we all share the land we are on. While some people have settled on a piece of land, we all own it. We came from it, we return to it, we must respect it.

Yeah, sometimes things make sense. 


MELBOURNE (Pronounced MEL-bin)

5 day break was too short. Way too short. I decided that I could absolutely, most likely live in Melbourne at one time in my life. 

I can’t decide if that’s something my parents will love or hate.

How bout them pictures huh? Gots lots. I have another one coming with me and a python as well. 

So, my time in Melbourne was amazing. We stayed in St. Kilda which was a small neighborhood right on the beach. There were so many little shops and restaurants all around that we hardly scratched the surface. The whole city is like that. It reminded me a little of DC. It was a big city, but not many high rises nor had an overwhelming financial/business district. It was super easy to navigate and took maybe 40 minutes to get from one end of the city to the other on trams.

I have to just mention the trams because they were so cool. Basically an above ground subway that ran on electricity through the city. There were special lanes for them in the middle of the street. Super clean and really nice. After experiencing the DC metro and New York subway, this was like riding in a limo. 

We found a flat to stay in one second away from the busiest street in St. Kilda (what luck!). There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, sitting area and bathroom (WE DIDN’T HAVE TO WALK OUTSIDE!) for the 6 of us. Outside there was a little courtyard where we ate breakfast and lunch a few days.

So the first night we got there, we settled in and then treated ourselves to dinner at a sushi restaurant. Looking back, maybe not the best idea because we were really hungry and most everything was out of our price range. Dear lord Australia is expensive! I really don’t know how Americans who are studying in Sydney or another city can afford it. We were struggling after one weekend. BUT it was all worth it. If I have to eat a Leo’s for all meals all the time, I’ll just remember my amazing weekend in Melbourne and just deal with the feeling that I am birthing an alien. 

Anyways, we went out exploring that night and gave ourselves and unknowing self guided tour of the city. We thought we could walk to this one bar and it turned out to be 6 miles away. So, we found refuge in a Jenga themed bar that was super hipster and was playing Marry Poppins on the wall. Like I said super hipster. We didn’t stay out long because we were all really tired so made it home by 2 and got ready for the next day.

Saturday, we basically walked around St Kilda all day. There was so much to see, so much shopping to be done. I would describe Melbourne as edgy and grungy. Kinda like I would imagine Seattle in the 90s, but without all the rain. We came back for a quick lunch of bread and cheese and then went and hung out in the St Kilda botanical gardens for a while where we did some dog watching. Like people watching but better. To round out the day, we walked along the beach (OMG WATER SO COLD) and saw some little penguins. I collected a ton of sea glass (for you Fabs!) and we saw some great starfish. Yes, even away from the woods we cannot get ourselves away from wildlife. 

That night we ventured into the Brunswick area. Again, another awesome part of Melbourne with bars and restaurants galore! I could eat and drink my way through this city. It seems like there are a lot of foreigners so the mix is really cool. So many different ethnic places and just a huge range of culture. I’m also saying this from the small part of the city we got to experience.

We went bopping around for a while and didn’t get home until 3 (yikes).

The next day was obviously a slow morning. We left home at 11ish and headed to the Queen Victoria markets. Mom and Fabs, think about the Public Market on steroids or for the DC crew Eastern Market on steroids. Food on food on produce on meat on cheese on fish on food with touristy things on touristy things on hats on touristy things. We spent so long walking around and didn’t even see everything!

After money spent there, cheese bought we continued to walk around downtown Melbourne. Also Melbourne architecture is amazing! RMIT, (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) was right around where we were and had all of these really cool modern buildings right next to Victorian architecture. Like I said amazing.

It was a Sunday night and after our late night out,  we made pasta and watched Avatar. Classic green movie.

Monday= WINE TOUR!!! We drove out to the spectacular Yarra Valley and visited 4 different wineries with our crew. There was 21 of us and we were the youngest by 30 years. It was chill because after the first two places we visited, we all got to be really good friends. We didn’t have to spit out the wine and I’ll leave it at that.

Our tour guide Brett was super funny and informative. The first place we went to was the smallest of the 4 and was a great way to start out. Because Aussie soil is subpar, the majority of the wines they have are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz.

Place two was where we had lunch and another assortment of wine. They have have a lot of sparkling reds (shiraz) which are amazing as well. We looked out onto the vineyard while eating our meals. Wow we were so fancy. Like real humans, but I was wearing a flannel.

#3 was my favorite. There was a helicopter in the front yard. The guy had some great shoes and was super cool. Here they experimented with different grapes. I forgot what the names of the first two we tried were but had an amazing Nebbiolo (which may or may not have been bought with a few other wine for Fab, spoiler alert). 

The last place we went to actually showed the process of making wine and we got to see the cellar where they made sparkling wine. At this point we were all REALLY good friends. We ate some cheese and bread, had another sparkling white and then had to leave. 

It was a great day. Not just because we are kids and got to drink a lot of wine, but to learn about the process, soil, etc was really amazing. The places we went were beautiful and we could see the hard work it takes to make wine. Also, I think we needed some wilderness.

Our last night, we went out to dinner at place near ours and then explored a little more that night.

We all woke up super grumpy that we had to leave. We all loved Melbourne. Even Paul who is usually scared of cities loved it. Such a place. I need to go back (Fab and Uncle Blake’s 60th birthday???) 

I didn’t get enough time to post pictures from Melbourne but those will be coming this weekend. We have the Yungaburra folk festival so have some more time in the “city” for some internet. 

Breakfast is a cooking. Peace