It’s been a million adventures since we last blogged, including a thousand lessons, sights, sounds and even smells.
We reconvened with our favorite guide, the one and only Rob Elvish, on North Stradbroke Island, east of Brisbane. We took a tour of the sand island on our first day, trudging through the muddy mangroves and checking out the invertebrate life in the nearby tidal zones. We learned about the ancient sand dunes formed by a combination of lowered sea levels and wind, and plucked huge mud crabs from their burrows. We were happily surprised by an unexpected snorkel on Amity Point, where woebegones swam uncomfortably close and a few of us got battle wounds from the spiky sea urchins. We saw some neat coral reefs that were just a sneak preview of what was to come on the storied GBR. While on Moreton, we designed and implemented our own experiments, studying organisms from soldier crabs that parade around the beach in massive armies, to enormous bulb-tailed spoon worms who look like giant sausages with a long tongue hanging out. It was a great, hands-on scientific research experience, and we have continued to grow in our researching skills and presentation skills throughout our travels.
Next we travelled to Carnarvon Gorge. Rob still leading, we observed meat ants, pretty-faced wallabies, kookaburras and kangaroos on a day to day basis, which we will all miss dearly (minus perhaps the early morning wake up calls from the kookaburras at 6 am daily!) Hiking daily, we experienced the different forests, ground cover with cycads or grasses, and swam in freshwater pools within echoing gorges, with beautiful mosses and cascading waterfalls. Aboriginal paintings decorated the gorge walls, and we were inspired to make our own rock tools and paint our bodies with ochre paint from the nearby stream bed rocks. We took model shots, obviously. Here, dear Maggie, our caterer, was brought into our lives, and she has kept us plump and gleeful. She shocked us with her delicious cuisine made solely on the barbie, including, but not limited to, steak, kebabs, burgers, pineapple fritters, curry, pancakes and even a chocolate birthday cake!
Sad to leave, Kroombit was our next destination. It is a cattle ranch that provides meat across the globe, including to the US. Amazingly luscious meat was provided, you can imagine, and we rode horses, wrangled goats, rode a mechanical bull (and fell off of it); cracked whips, bought cowboy hats and bandannas, and lived like ringers (or cowboys and -girls in Australian slang). It was a big contrast to our next stop, Heron Island.
Heron Island. What to say? Words don’t do it justice, and nothing can compare to this beautiful and isolated island plopped in the Pacific. The coral reefs are exceptional, and we’ve been lucky enough to spend the majority of our time checking out the reef life while snorkeling. Common sightings include black tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks, cow-tailed rays, shovel nose rays, loggerhead turtles, eagle rays, green sea turtles, parrotfish, damselfish, triggerfish, manta rays, sea cucumbers, box fish, starfish (including a crazy-looking crown of thorns starfish), and SO much more. Most of us have had a chance to play with a loggerhead turtle, and we usually end our afternoon snorkels with a swim in a shark and ray infested “bait ball.” Needless to say, most everyone has been cured of any fear of sharks. Sure, they’re rather small in the world of sharks… but they’re still sharp toothed and fierce! Our night snorkel has also aided in putting an end to some people’s fear of the ocean with its glowing dinoflagellates, many large turtles, solitary shark and rays and a live eel feeding on a rock cod!
One of the best, and most unexpected, parts of our stay here have been a remarkable sighting of green sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea. A couple days later, we saw a sea turtle mum returning to the sea after laying her eggs…three months late!
We have been truly blessed to stay here, on this coral cay that takes only twenty minutes to walk around. I addition to our leisurely snorkels around the island, we’ve also learned how to conduct research underwater. We snorkel along in our wetsuits and record substrate, invertebrates, and types of fish we encounter along a transect line. Vibrant and, in some places bleached, we have now roamed deep waters (some who’ve SCUBA dived) and shallow. Swimming amongst schools of fish we’ve spotted glorious corals and habitats too overwhelming for one brain to comprehend. The message, though: miraculous. The dizzyingly aqua blue seas and skies, breathtaking sunsets, and thrilling marine life, have made these past 8 days remarkable. And, of course, we can’t forget our two favorite enthusiastic and beloved teachers–Jimmy and Andrew, two research scientists, who have made Heron Island a place that will stay with us forever! We have been given the truth about research careers from these two, and told jaw-dropping stories of personal shark research, along with many, many other anecdotes. Definitely the best kind of grand finale to an incredible four month long journey! Could definitely be worse! Now, we saddle up for finals and an enormous plane ride home. Thanks, life, ’cause you’re good. Sweet as, mate! Good times!
Check out these videos on the YouTube:
Beached as, bro!
How animals eat
Flight of the Conchords
Blue planet videos in general (WE ❤ MARINE BIOLOGY)
Worst Venom (with a Jimmy White cameo appearance!)
Being our last official post, thank you all for reading about our adventures and see you on the flip side! (Throwback photo posts may appear periodically in the coming months!) G'Day mates!