AUSTRALIA PROJECT: TROPICAL REEFS AND RAINFOREST
Join us this spring in the "Wet Tropics" of northern Australia, home to some of the most unique and ancient terrestrial and marine biodiversity found on earth. From quirky wildlife such as marsupials and monotremes to the highest concentrations of primitive flowering plants families in the world, the Wet Tropics are a store of endemic, rare and threatened flora and fauna. It is for these reasons and more that much of this diverse region has been listed as a World Heritage Area (WHA) - which in turn borders another famed WHA and one of the seven wonders of the natural world: the Great Barrier Reef. As the world's largest coral reef system, the coastal waters of the Wet Tropics sustain extraordinary biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet and are the perfect site for a field study such as ours.
This area of northern Australia is intimately tied to human history and present-day use. As the world’s oldest surviving culture, the Aboriginal people have long interacted with these land and seascapes in fascinating ways. Much of these ties and the ability to continue to steward the land have been severed through colonization and the region has since been utilized for mining, forestry, agriculture, fishing and, nowadays, a lucrative tourism economy.
All these factors have resulted in an ecologically and culturally fragmented landscape, which faces persistent environmental pressures. In recent years, resurgence has taken hold, leading to a range of responses in the form of innovative scientific research, management measures, protected areas, stakeholder collaborations and Indigenous initiatives which seek to preserve the rich values of the area.
As a team, we will explore and study the flora and fauna in diverse habitats of northeastern Australia and the Wet Tropics, ranging from the plateaus and tablelands, savannah grasslands, eucalyptus forests, tropical rainforest, to the coastal mangroves and 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 fascinating natural history and biogeography of this large island-continent as well as examine the cultural and socio-economic history of the region. We will discuss traditional and contemporary conservation strategies and the threats they seek to alleviate, such as land clearing and the impacts of introduced exotic species. We will become familiar with field survey and management techniques that have been implemented to protect key flora and fauna.
As we gain familiarity with these ecosystems, we will carry out field assessments with scientific researchers examining species interactions, patterns of diversity, and behavior. During the project, we will look at how both geological and human history has played a defining role in the evolution, survival, and success of the unique flora and fauna of northeastern Australia. Additionally, with local community members, as well as land and protected area managers, we will examine the history of land use, ownership, and conservation and learn about the role of the Aboriginal peoples in sustaining the landscape and their spiritual ties with it. We will speak and listen to various stakeholders in an effort to understand the diverse and sometimes conflicting perspectives to conservation. In examining various approaches to environmental management and protection, we will attempt to understand what has worked, what has not, and why.
Through on-site field studies and research projects, participants will have unique learning opportunities to assess major opportunities and challenges affecting biodiversity conservation and sustainable human communities in Australia today.
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