Wildlands Studies: Australia Project: Tropical Reefs And Rainforest

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The dynamism and diversity of the exceptionally rich ecosystems of Tropical North Queensland are intimately tied to their human history and present day use. As the world’s oldest surviving culture, the Australian Aboriginal people have long intera... read more

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The dynamism and diversity of the exceptionally rich ecosystems of Tropical North Queensland are intimately tied to their human history and present day use. As the world’s oldest surviving culture, the Australian Aboriginal people have long interacted with these land and seascapes. However, the ability to continue to steward the land has been severed through colonization and ensuing development of mining, forestry, agriculture, fishing and tourism industries.

All these factors have resulted in an ecologically and culturally fragmented landscape that faces persistent environmental pressures. The threat of human-induced climate change, with increasing global temperatures and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting in higher frequencies of destructive disturbance events such as cyclones and mass coral bleaching are among the issues facing this area. In recent decades, a conservation consciousness has taken hold, leading to a range of responses in the form of innovative scientific research, management measures, protected area designation, stakeholder collaborations and indigenous initiatives which seek to preserve the rich values of the area. However, with the current political uncertainty, powerful industry pressure, and the threat of global climate change, efforts to maintain this extraordinary place must remain strong.

As a team, we will explore and study the region’s diverse flora, fauna and habitats ranging from tablelands to tropical rainforests, and from coastal mangroves to coral reefs. Team members will take part in firsthand investigations of these ecosystems, the species they support, the people who depend on them and the conservation challenges they face today. We will immerse ourselves in the region’s fascinating natural history and biogeography, and discover on-site how it is entwined with ancient cultural traditions and more recent socioeconomic activity. We will discuss the importance of maintaining connectivity between both terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the traditional and contemporary custodians of those landscapes to facilitate conservation strategies that effectively alleviate threats, such as land clearing, coastal development, the impacts of exotic species and climate change. All the while, we will hone our naturalist skills and become familiar with field survey techniques that are needed to monitor and conserve key flora and fauna. We will focus on the land-sea interface, studying indicators for determining the health of the reefs and rainforest, which we will compare and contrast between a number of locations up the coast. 

As we gain familiarity with these ecosystems, we will carry out our own scientific field assessments by examining species interactions, patterns of diversity, and behavior. We will investigate how geological, ecological and human activity have played a defining role in the evolution, survival and success of the unique flora and fauna of the Wet Tropics. We will also engage with various stakeholders in an effort to understand their diverse and sometimes contrasting perspectives toward conservation “best practices.” Through these rich experiences, participants will have unique learning opportunities to assess the challenges and opportunities for biodiversity conservation and social-ecological resilience in modern day Australia.

Location: Cairns, Australia
Accommodations:  Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge
Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Program Type(s):
Study Abroad
Gap Year
Program Length(s):
  • Summer
  • Spring
  • Academic Year
  • Custom
Instruction Language(s):
  • English
Relevant Study Subject(s):
  • Ecology, Evolution Biology
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Studies
  • Zoology, Animal Biology
  • Animal Sciences
  • Anthropology
  • Botany, Plant Biology
  • Earth Science
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Global Studies
  • Natural Resources and Conservation
  • Natural Resources, Conservation
  • Natural Resources Management
  • Natural Sciences
  • Outdoor Education
  • Soil Sciences
  • Sustainability Studies
  • Wildlife Science, Wildlife Management
Minimum GPA:
Year Founded:
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