Australia Project: Tropical Reefs and Rainforest

Meeting Location              Cairns, Australia
 Program Dates        Summer 2018: June 24 - August 6, 2018
 Accommodations    Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge
 Language    English instruction
 Courses    ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C
 Credits    15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits
 Prerequisites    One college level course of ecology or similar           
   18 years of age


            Australia Program Costs, Summer 2018
 $  150       Application Fee
            $4500       Program Fee
            $2900       Estimated In-Country Group Fee
            $1500       Estimated Airfare/Visa
            $1300       Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending 
            $10350    Total Estimated Cost

            Summer 2018: Program fees due by May 1, 2018                 

australia sunset 

Australia-giant-clams-and-studentsJoin us this summer in the tropical land and seascapes of northeast Australia—known as the “Wet Tropics”—home to some of the most unique, diverse, and ancient terrestrial and marine biodiversity found on earth. From charismatic fauna to the highest concentrations of primitive flowering flora in the world, this region is a store of endemic, rare, and threatened species. It is for these reasons and more that this region has been recognized as having international significance by being listed as a World Heritage Area (WHA), and, in turn, borders another WHA and one of the seven wonders of the natural world: the famous Great Barrier Reef. As the world’s largest coral reef system, it sustains extraordinary biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet. Together the Wet Tropics and The Great Barrier Reef serve as perfect locations for our field studies.

Australia Plant ID sketch


The dynamism and diversity of the exceptionally rich ecosystems of Tropical North Queensland are intimately tied to their human history and present-day use. As the world’s oldest surviving culture, the Australian Aboriginal people have long interacted with these land and seascapes. However, the ability to continue to steward the land has been severed through colonization and ensuing development of mining, forestry, agriculture, fishing and tourism industries.

All these factors have resulted in an ecologically and culturally fragmented landscape that faces persistent environmental pressures. Not least of which is the threat of human-induced climate change, with increasing global temperatures and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting in higher frequencies of destructive disturbance events such as cyclones and mass coral bleaching. In recent decades, a conservation consciousness has taken hold, leading to a range of responses in the form of innovative scientific research, management measures, protected area designation, stakeholder collaborations, and Indigenous initiatives which seek to preserve the rich values of the area. However, with the current political uncertainty, powerful industry pressure, and the threat of global climate change, efforts to maintain this extraordinary place must remain strong.

As a team, we will explore and study the region’s diverse flora, fauna, and habitats ranging from the tablelands to tropical rainforest, and from coastal mangroves to coral reefs. Team members will take part in firsthand investigations of these ecosystems, the species they support, the people who depend on them, and the conservation challenges they face today. We will immerse ourselves in the region’s fascinating natural history and biogeography, and discover on-site how it is entwined with ancient cultural traditions and more recent socioeconomic activity. We will discuss the importance of maintaining connectivity between both terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the traditional and contemporary custodians of those landscapes to facilitate conservation strategies that effectively alleviate threats, such as land clearing, coastal development, the impacts of exotic species, and climate change. All the while, we will hone our naturalist skills and become familiar with field survey techniques that are needed to monitor and conserve key flora and fauna. We will focus on the land-sea interface, studying indicators for determining the health of the reefs and rainforest, which we will compare and contrast between a number of locations up the coast.

Australia-8As we gain familiarity with these ecosystems, we will carry out our own scientific field assessments by examining species interactions, patterns of diversity, and behavior. We will investigate how geological, ecological, and human activity have played a defining role in the evolution, survival, and success of the unique flora and fauna of the Wet Tropics. We will also engage with various stakeholders in an effort to understand their diverse and sometimes contrasting perspectives toward conservation “best practice.” Through these rich experiences, participants will have unique learning opportunities to assess the challenges and opportunities for biodiversity conservation and social-ecological resilience in modern day Australia.



M.S. in Conservation Biology, University of Cape Town, 2008;
Ph.D. Candidate in Coral Reef Ecology, James Cook University

Tessa is a marine conservation ecologist whose research interests have ranged from the impacts of elephants on savanna vegetation and bat community ecology, to ocean upwelling and dynamite fishing on coral reefs. Her passion for coral reefs led her to work on the remote Aldabra Atoll World Heritage Site in Seychelles and Vamizi Island in Mozambique. Tessa’s Ph.D. research focuses on the impacts of habitat degradation on coral reef food webs in north Queensland. She has taught our Australia Project since 2017.