Posted: November 3, 2016

Sylvie Finn and Matt Smetana answer some questions on what they’ve been up to while at the Center for Rainforest Studies in Australia!

What has been a highlight of the past few weeks for you?

Matt: Mine has to be our trip to Fitzroy Island on the Great Barrier Reef with our socio-economics course to explore how actions of mainland Australia and humans everywhere affect aquatic life in the reef. We were able to spend the day learning about turtle rehabilitation, exploring an offshore reef, and relaxing on a beautiful coral beach. Snorkeling was one of the most incredible experiences; looking down at bright tropical fish and anemones swaying in the currents was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Sylvie: Last week we completed our Field Exercises (FEXs) for Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Rainforest Ecology. For NRM we compared different restoration planting methods to assess which do the best job of returning abandoned pasture to mature rainforest. Our FEX for Rainforest Ecology was focused on the yellow-bellied glider (YBG), which is an adorable gliding marsupial that lives in the tall open forests of the Atherton Tablelands. In an effort to determine suitable habitat for the YBG, we walked along transects, wading through dense lantana thickets to map trees that YBG feed on and live in. Later in the evening we sat still for two hours by trees where YBG were known to visit and waited to observe the YBGs feeding. This was so exciting; we would sit there and watch the sun set, hear the birds stop, hear the cicadas start and stop, and suddenly we would hear the most bizarre noise I have ever heard followed by a thump and see a glider on the tree right in front of us. The FEXs were so rewarding for me; after long laborious days in the field I always came away with such a sense of satisfaction and definitely felt like a real field biologist!


Me hugging my favorite Rose Gum (Eucalyptus grandis). Please disregard my silly face


Brennan Radulski chilling on Fitzroy Island

What do you do when we’re not in class?

Sylvie: Play volleyball- I’ve never played a sport before but man oh man do I love volleyball now! Whenever I get the chance I play and although I am not the best player, I like to think I bring a lot of passion to the court.

Matt: Even though we live in the rainforest, we hang out a lot in our down time, play games, watch movies in the (former) study shack, and read. I’ve also been keeping a journal to remember my time spent in Australia and all the amazing experiences I’ve taken part in.


Our championship stadium


One of my favorite memories so far was counting Saurus Cranes (Grus antigone) on Lake Tinaroo at twilight

How’s the food?

Matt: The food has been incredible, I didn’t expect much living in the rainforest, but at CRS we eat like royalty! Last night we had incredible stuffed peppers with veggies and cornbread for dinner followed by ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert.

Sylvie: The food is absolutely incredible! Marianne our cook is so wonderful and has been so accommodating with my recent desire to become a vegetarian!


Marianne, our extremely talented cook

Most Australian thing you’ve done?

Sylvie: This past weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Atherton Tablelands Folk Festival which was hosted in Yungaburra, the closest town to the center. All of the students volunteered for free tickets, camped out, and were able to enjoy some seriously talented Australian musicians!

Matt: Driving on the left side of the road during our mid-semester break was pretty strange! We also were able to stay with a local family and see what their lives are like. My homestay parents make pottery and study geology so we were able to make our own dishes and check out some local abandoned mines!


Don’t worry, we didn’t

Favorite Australian creature you’ve seen?

Matt: The northern leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius cornutus) is really incredible, they look almost extraterrestrial with their large eyes and interesting camouflage tactics. Honorable mention for the amethystine python, monitor lizard, and many birds that sing to us in the morning (minus Louie the honeyeater).

Sylvie: I probably have to go with seeing a Cassowary with two chicks in the Daintree…or kissing Nelson the baby Lumholtz tree kangaroo when we visited the Lumholtz Lodge animal rehabilitation center. Both were amazing experiences with amazing animals!


Matt found this northern leaf-tailed gecko walking back to the cabin one night

What are you most looking forward to?

Sylvie: I am definitely looking forward to starting Directed Research. I will be doing research with Siggy our Rainforest Ecology professor studying Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos (LTK). One aspect of our project will be observing the interactions between a mom and her joey; I am beyond grateful and excited to be able to observe these incredible animals!

Matt: I’m also excited to start our directed research projects. I am particularly interested in observing LTK dispersal into a restoration corridor. The results can give an indication of the successes of restoration efforts and shed light on LTK behavior in a novel environment!


Nelson the baby Tree Kangaroo giving me kisses while standing on Noah Stieglitz’s back. Photo courtesy of Karen Goldburg


Cathedral fig near CRS


Balancing Rock at twilight in Chillagoe


The happy authors taking a dip in the outback. Photo courtesy of Brennan Radulski


Malanda Falls with the authors


The authors take Etty Bay


Cute bird in its nest!


Classic Daintree rainforest picture

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