When I decided to apply to the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia I knew that I wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef. I was excited for a class called Australia’s Marine Environment because I knew it involved taking a field trip to the reef. Well—it finally happened!
For the past five days I’ve been at the southern end of the reef on Heron Island. It is 50 miles away from the mainland and only accessible by ferry. The only things here are the UQ research station and a small resort. It only takes 20 minutes to walk around the entirety of the island. It’s small, remote, and the best place to be for seeing areas of pristine reef and marine life.
The trip is structured around a group project that combines what we’ve learned with field work on the reef surrounding the island. I joined a snorkelling project that was interested in fish feeding. We woke up at 6am to go watch different fish takes bites of various living corals and other reef substrates. It is important to know what corals the fish depend on because if a mass coral bleaching event occurs, it will harm the fish populations too. Heron Island has been minimally affected by bleaching events so far, but since the reef is interconnected one instance of bleaching will harm the entire ecosystem.
A highlight of this trip was the opportunity to get face-to-face with wildlife. Hoards of sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, and birds call this island “home”. A shipwreck from World War II right off the shoreline has been taken over by marine life. Endangered birds nest on the beaches and turtle nests are hidden around every corner. Heron Island is a paradise, but climate change threatens every part of it. This trip will always remind me to stick to the basics of sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle!! We can all take action to reduce our carbon footprint and places like this are a huge reason why we should.