St Bees - Saturday Post Script

St Bees – Saturday post script

I was on the second plane out of St Bees. While I was waiting for the plane to come back I thought I would just sit on a rock and enjoy the view. Two remarkable things happened. Firstly, a turtle swam by, just under the surface, popping its head up every now and then to look around. Its shell was the size of a laundry basket. I feel privileged to have seen it.

A few minutes later two people on a jet ski zoomed past. I couldn’t help comparing their attitude to that of Dr Melzer. The attitudes we hold and the choices we make really do make a difference.

S 1 Coral sea


St Bees Friday

St Bees – Friday
Final measurements, spectacular views, and a thought provoking beach

The beach we landed on today was different again from all the previous beaches. This boat was hauled up to its current position to protect it from a previous cyclone. That plan didn’t work!

Today we walked in grassland. I was looking forward to it. I thought it would be easier than the rainforest with all its vines. Wrong! Underneath the grass were lots of rocks and very uneven ground. It was hard to know where to put my feet. Thank goodness for my sturdy boots! Our boots took a hammering and another person in our party had to use the first aid kit to do emergency repairs on her boots! Thank goodness this was the only first aid needed on the trip.

F1boat wreck - cyclone damageF1 Over to the other side of the islandF3 Running repairs
 We went up and over to the other side of the island to visit Flotsam and Jetsam beach. This side of the island faces out to the ocean and the currents drop interesting things on the beach. It was covered in two things you don’t normally see at the beach – plastic rubbish which had washed in on the tide (flotsam and jetsam) and pumice stone, which is so light it floats. Do you know where pumice comes from or how humans use it? (Hint: something to do with volcanoes and bathtubs!)

F2 FLotsam and Jetsam and Pumice
The first photo shows the shoreline. I’ve never seen anything like it. So much plastic! The worst thing about it was the microplastic, which you can’t see in the photos – tiny bits of plastic that are terrible for marine life. The third photo shows part of a midden. This is what Aboriginal people left behind when they visited the island: a few shells and a stone to crack them open. It makes you think about how little people care about the environment when you compare what used to be on this beach, and what is here now.

F2 Sandstone and pumice at the beachF2 Things that wash up on the beach cF2 What previous visitors left

After a quick swim (yes, past the shore line the water was quite clear) and morning tea, we headed back up the mountain for a few final measurements, a quick skype with the class, and the rest of the day was available to see a little more of the island and its inhabitants.

We saw another koala, then headed up a very steep hill. Not fun! At the top was yet another weed we found all over the island – prickly pear

F3 A little koala spottingF3 Are we really going up thereF3 Prickly pear -yet another weed

 The best view yet.

F3 View from the top
No pictures on the way down – too steep! Someone was trying to skype me too, but I had no hands free to answer the phone. This was possibly the most challenging part of the trip, moving from tree to tree over steep, rocky ground covered in grass. I was grateful to get to the bottom.

At the beach a rock wallaby was grazing, ignoring our presence.  The tide was out, and we found oysters. As the boat pulled out, two seagulls which had followed our boat every morning circled us three times and then flew away. Back at Keswick Island there was just time buy some Keswick honey  from the kiosk and watch one final sunset.

F4 rock wallaby at the beachF4 Oyster - Different beach- different organismsF5 End of the day

The evening was spent debating the possibilities for intervention to solve the problems on St Bees Island. It was interesting to hear everyone’s ideas.  Tomorrow we fly back over the Coral Sea and home to start thinking about our own environments and how we can play our parts in preserving them for future generations. I came here thinking I would be looking for koalas. Instead I discovered that unless we care for their habitat, the koalas won’t be able to survive here. I found myself counting weeds and describing tree canopy and ground cover instead, which is just as important.

F5 Last sunset on Keswick island

Your Questions

April – We saw three koalas. Monday and Tuesday we were working in a part of the forest that was mainly rainforest. Koalas don’t live in rainforest so we only saw one in the first two days whch was living in a gum tree on the edge of the rain forest. In the next area where we were working the gum trees were looking pretty stressed. They had been burnt by salt spray which had blown high up the mountain in the cyclone and they were surrounded by a terrible weed called lantana which can graw taller than humans and is very prickly and dense. Koalas don’t like it very much. We only saw two that day – on the way there and on the way back. We saw the same koala in the same tree again the next day. We didn’t go all over the island so there are many more koalas in other areas.
Neil and Roy – The koalas up here are smaller than in NSW and the females are smaller than the males. If you have ever been to Featherdale and seen the adult koalas there (or the zoo), imagine koalas about two thirds of the size. That is about the size of the female we saw.
Kayla – We spent a lot of time in the evenings discussing your question and I will show you a diagram of what we came up with when I get back. The short version is that the gum tree seedlings are being eaten by wallabies and rainforest is taking over the gum tree stands. Also, the weed 'lantana' is taking over the grassland underneath the gum trees and stopping seedlings from getting any light. So the koala’s habitat is being ruined by weeds and by the wallabies eating the poplar gum and forest red-gum seedlings. In addition, climate change may be causing more severe weather which is stressing the gumtrees which are already there. If they die, there will be fewer seedlings to replace them.
Majed – No – we didn’t touch the koalas. We just photographed them.
Sunny - This week it was around 25 degrees each day. In general it’s hotter and wetter than Sydney.
Didier – The main reason we didn’t see any koalas is that we were working on a scientific project to see how the lantana is affecting the gumtrees. Because the gumtrees in this area aren’t healthy there isn’t much of a koala presence here. I’ll explain more when I see you. Have a look through my blog and you might see some pictures to help you understand. It was also very steep and the terrain is quite rocky. There are lots of vines and long grass to trip you up and pebbles and leaves to slide on. You have to be fit and walk very carefully.
Abdulrahman – I saw a small snake (there’s a picture on my blog) and some of my colleagues saw a larger green tree snake. None of the snakes here are venomous so no-one was worried.
Josh –  I was hoping to do the following things:
* See a scientist working in the field and get a message filmed from him to students at VAPS so you can have an idea about his profession as an ecologist. (Achieved)
* I was hoping to learn some measurement techniques for us to use in any ecological learning we do at VAPS. (Sort of achieved – I learned three techniques but we don’t have the instruments I used so I’ll have to do some more research before we can use those techniques at VAPS)
* I hoped to get an idea about how scientists understand and make decisions about complex problems. (We had lots of discussions every night and I’ve learned heaps about this, which I’ll share with you when I get back.)
* I hoped to meet other like-minded teachers and talk to them about what they are doing in their schools. (Achieved – I have a network of new friends I can ring to talk things over with from all around NSW)
* Skype lots of classes at VAPS so that students can experience the environment (even if it is through my eyes) and talk with a scientist about a special project. (Partially achieved – I talked to my class three times, and Dr Melzer talked to them once. Unfortunately the skype connection didn’t seem to work with any other computer than the one in my classroom.)
* Come back with ideas for VAPS projects. (I have a few ideas about where to start and plenty of possibilities to consider but I think this is something we will all have to work on together. This is the most important outcome and I really won’t know if I’ve been successful unless you (and other students) can demonstrate that you have learned something about how complex the environment is and how interconnected living things are. I hope we can begin some projects at school and work with Canada Bay Council to learn about and support the environment near our school. We’ve started that already with the mangrove project.
Mayar – It was all so interesting! There were some amazing and beautiful fungi, some massive insects (especially spiders and grasshoppers), an incredible variety of birds (my favourites were the raptors like sea eagles, wedge-tailed eagles, kites and falcons that always circled us to check out what we were doing); crazy,  weird and wonderful coral; koalas and wallabies (cute and familiar). Some things were too quick, too shy or too far away to photograph. For example, when we were wading out to the boat we saw sting-rays, crabs and shovel-nosed sharks. I think the really amazing thing is that there is such diversity here still, despite the mistakes humans have made in the past.

I hope this answers all your questions.
Mrs Thomas

The real cost of weeds

Today was the same as yesterday, without the swim and with longer working hours. We were dropped again at a beautiful beach and hiked up the hill through the rainforest to the areas where we were working.

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