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From May to July 2019, I traveled on a University of Florida study abroad program “Sustaining Humans and the Environment” in North Queensland, Australia. After the flights from Orlando to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Brisbane, and Brisbane to Townsville, I had finally arrived! I along with 16 others hopped from city to city on a bus learning from different lecturers along the way. After the study abroad program, I went on a journey on the Spirit of Freedom Liveabord, diving for a week on different parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Below is a description of and photographs from each city.


The first stop was Townsville and Magnetic Island. I flew to Townsville two days before the study abroad program started to adjust to the time difference and get some much needed rest. The first morning after arrival, I climbed Castle Hill early before sunrise, and saw one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. The hill overlooks the town and Pacific Ocean. Later that day, I walked down the strand, where I got my first taste of wildlife, seeing Lorikeets and Red Tailed Cockatoo eating nuts out of the trees on the beach!

Next was Magnetic Island. This island is magical, as 65% of it is a protected national park, and it is smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. I hiked two prominent trails, Balding Bay and the Forts. These hikes went through diverse wetlands and dry sclerophyll forests. Some of the wildlife seen on this island included flying foxes, rock wallabies, bush-stone curlews, laughing kookaburra, lorikeets, and koalas. I also went back to Townsville to the Reef HQ Aquarium, home to the largest living coral reef aquarium, which is open to the outside and exposed to the elements like in nature. There is also a turtle hospital. My last day on Magnetic Island, I helped conduct research in a Koala population survey project. There was one area with ten wild Koala’s lazily relaxing in the eucalyptus trees.

After Magnetic Island, we traveled west towards Hidden Valley, a family run, environmentally friendly hotel. On the way, we stopped at the Paluma National Park, where there is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by the “Wet Tropics” rain forest. In between the rain forest and cabins, there was another type of ecosystem, a Eucalyptus Grandis Forest, with some of the largest trees I have ever seen. Once at the cabins, a tour of the facilities showed us how the resort runs 100% on solar power, even though the location is very remote. The next day we hiked around this new more outback sort of habitat, the highlight being the Running River Gorge. At night we spotted wild Platypus! Unfortunately, I could not snap of shot of the one we saw as he was too fast.

After Hidden Valley, I traveled to Mission Beach, a small town on the Pacific. On the way there, I stopped at the Mungalla Station, a rancher station bought back by Nywaigi Aborigines. I learned about the painful truth and history of the Aboriginal people from this area. I learned about natural medicines, how to throw a boomerang, and had a home cooked lunch. The next day, we traveled north of Mission Beach to Wooroonooran National Park, a World Heritage Area. Here wildlife spotted included Woompoo Fruit Doves, Brown Cuckoo Dove, various plants and snakes. We also stopped at the Babinda Boulders and saw a juvenile cassowary.

Brown-Cuckoo Dove #2, Wooroonooran
Juvenile Cassowary, Misson Beach Australia

The next morning we visited the Community for Coastal Cassowary Conservation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the endemic and endangered dinosaur-like bird species. Run by volunteers, their main goal is to stop habitat fragmentation as these birds need large ranges of rainforest to roam for food. They have an important niche, to pollinate over 70 different plants’s seeds throughout the rainforest. The main ways of doing this are buying land in order to make “Cassowary Corridors” and to grow native plants that can one day be grown in the forest. Straight from here we headed to the Atherton Tablelands, where I met a home stay family who let me into their home for 2 days to learn about their dairy farming lifestyle.

On my 21st birthday, we said goodbye to the dairy farm and headed further into the outback and away from civilization to Tyrconnel, where there is an old gold mine surrounded by the dry forest and bush. The highlights here were the beautiful hikes and the night sky. I have never seen so many stars and the Milky Way.

After Tyrconnel, we traveled east to the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree. This rain forest dates back 80 million years, and has many unique plants and animals only found there.

One especially incredible experience due to my study abroad program was having the opportunity to visit the Daintree Rainforest Observatory Research Facility. This facility is unique in that it is home to The Australian Canopy Crane. It is one of 12 canopy cranes in the world, is 47m tall with a 57m arm, giving researchers access to 1ha of rainforest. It can collect data from all parts of the canopy from the very top to the bottom.