Posted: March 7, 2017
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From the Rainforest to the Reef


As an SFS student at the Center for Rainforest Studies in 2012, I was enamored by the rainforest-focused curriculum and the emphasis on place-based learning that the program hosted. I was pleasantly surprised when I returned to CRS five years later as a Program Assistant, though, and learned that a new component called “from the rainforest to the reef” had been added to the syllabus. Through this section of the Socioeconomics and Environmental Policy course, the students are given the opportunity to travel down to Cairns for a day trip visit to Fitzroy Island, a part of the inner Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The excursion is filled with fun activities such as snorkeling, hiking, and a visit to a turtle rehabilitation facility; but an equally fascinating part of the day can be had in field lecture, when Associate Professor Justus Kithiia discusses with the students some of the socioeconomic impacts of the GBR. The students are encouraged to think not only about the environmental impacts that the GBR is currently facing, but also about the social and economic impacts that the Far North Queensland region is subjected to as a result of the tourism industry that has been built around the GBR. What follows is a dynamic debate, as the students are encouraged to think critically about the sustainability of the Wet Tropics and acknowledge how the three components that make up the triple bottom line are interconnected and must be equally addressed.

This new element to the CRS curriculum is fundamental to the students’ learning here in Australia, as it enables them to think beyond the small bit of rainforest they have come to know as “home”, and get a sense of the larger picture that that bit of rainforest fits into. Australia’s Far North Queensland region is currently facing a wide array of both threats and opportunities, and a holistic view of these factors is essential for confronting them. It is exciting to see our students start to make connections between their three CRS courses—Rainforest Ecology, Forest Management, and Environmental Policy—that they had not previously considered; and I hope that they will take this way of critical evaluation back with them to their home universities and onto their future careers.

A beautiful view of the inner Great Barrier Reef from the shores of Fitzroy Island, an island just 45 minutes away from Cairns by ferry

CRS students visit the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Center (CTRC) in order to learn about the conservation efforts of the organization and get a glimpse into the final stage of turtle rehabilitation

Meet Woodson, a green turtle that was skin and bones when he was found, and is now almost ready to be released back into a suitable habitat after rehabilitating at CTRC since 2015

Jump up if you’re prepared for stinger season! CRS students Lily, Lena, Sam, Jeremy, Riley, Chase, Julia, Grace, and Bruce (L-R) show off their stinger suits before snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

Spring (“Wet”) 2017 Australia students celebrate the end of a great excursion before heading back on the ferry to Cairns

→ Tropical Rainforest Studies in Australia

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