Looking ashore from the Green Island beach, the mosaic of stakeholders that claim the Great Barrier Reef stretches as far as the eye can see. Traditional Mandingalbay-Yidinji land snakes to the south, away from the sprawling port of Cairns. Beyond the inland mountains just on the horizon lie the Atherton Tablelands, which students call home during their time in Australia. The agricultural economy of the Tablelands contributes to water quality in and around the reef. While the Great Barrier Reef is the backbone of ecotourism in Queensland by providing jobs to locals and a spectacular destination to visitors, the reef also serves as a valuable agricultural resource to the land’s traditional owners. All of these stakeholders on land have a big impact on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Sitting on this beach looking out at the classroom before them, students are able to see how this complex mosaic of stewardship fits together.

After class on the beach, students get the opportunity to truly experience what they have heard about. They head for the water with snorkels and fins in tow, and swim among the sea turtles, fish, and corals surrounding the island. Here, they see first-hand how nutrient run-off from the Atherton Tablelands, increased temperatures from climate change, and the force of cyclones has damaged the corals. Despite this, they also see the immense biodiversity living just below the surface. Giant clams hold their ground among fluorescent-colored corals, and fish make their way through an underwater highway. Snorkeling at Green Island is an incredible way for students to truly grasp the information from the classroom.


Symmetrical brain coral. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Green sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Green sea turtle. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Goldstripe butterflyfish. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Sixbar angelfish. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Giant clam. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Colby Prokop snorkels above the reef. Photo courtesy of Nicole Larson


Photo courtesy of Eli Morrow

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