As I sit, basking in the sun on the esplanade in the coastal city of Cairns, I reflect on the first weeks of the SFS Rainforest Studies program. What an adventure so far – our class has been deep in the heart of the rainforest, stood fearlessly on the edge of volcanoes, camped with indigenous rangers on their ancestral land (inside a fence to keep out crocodiles!), and braved the heat to go to the edge of the Outback. The native fauna we’ve seen so far are impressive – tree kangaroos, bandicoots, monitor lizards, flying foxes, pademelons, ring-tailed possums, flocks of cockatoos, wallabies, a saltwater crocodile, several types of snakes, and on and on. This part of the world is truly amazing.
Though it sounds like we have been intrepid tourists on a tropical escapade, our trips into the field have all been carefully planned so that we develop a deep understanding of the connections of geography, natural processes, and human impacts to the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. For me, it has been valuable to see that the rainforest – so distant and distinct from my hometown of Spokane, Washington – is facing similar kinds of environmental problems, albeit with different consequences; the commonalities of environmental degradation transcend all cultural differences. I feel that I can better contextualize the struggles of the people in Queensland to find a balance between the health of the rainforest and the demand for resources to sustain their population.
In the coming weeks, we are going to learn more about the culture and concerns of the people of Queensland, as well as examine the complex interactions between the rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. This means we have to be courageous students and get up close and personal with reef sharks, stingrays, and box jellyfish. I think our adventurous band will be up to the challenge.