Program Details

Location: Cairns, Australia

Dates: Spring 2019: April 8–May 22, 2019,
Summer 2019: June 24–August 6, 2019

Accommodations:  Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge

Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Language: English instruction

Courses: ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C

Prerequisites: One college level course of ecology or similar,
18 years of age

Program Costs

Australia Spring 2019
$     150      Application Fee
$   5,500    Program Fee
$   2,900    Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   1,200    Estimated Airfare
$   1,000    Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$10,750    Total Estimated Cost
Spring 2019: Program fees due by February 1, 2019

Australia Summer 2019
$     150      Application Fee
$   5,500    Program Fee
$   3,100    Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   1,500    Estimated Airfare
$   1,000    Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$11,250    Total Estimated Cost
Summer 2019: Program fees due by May 1, 2019


The Program

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. 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 are among the issues facing this area. 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 tablelands to tropical rainforests, 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.

As 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 practices.” 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.

Program Photo Gallery


More Details





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Chris Smith

Lead Instructor, Spring 2019

MS in Wildlife Biology, Humboldt State University, 2015

Chris is a wildlife biologist and educator. His master's research in Kenya focused on how shade and sun coffee can be used to promote bird diversity and ecosystem services. Over the last ten years, Chris has had the opportunity to work around the world with everything from baboons in Namibia and saker falcons in Mongolia to wolves in Idaho and tropical birds in the Peruvian Amazon. Chris has taught environmental field courses for several years, enjoys opening students' eyes to the wildlife around them and teaching them how to study and interact with these amazing organisms. Chris leads our Australia program.

Joe Sapp

Instructor, Spring 2019

PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz, 2017

Joe is a behavioral ecologist with research interests in sociality, cooperation, conflict, and animal societies. He has directed the bulk of his training and scientific curiosity on insects, especially ants, but has promiscuous taxonomic interests, having conducted field research on creatures as diverse as birds, mammals, fish, and snails. His graduate work examined the intercolonial intraspecific interactions of socially parasitic ants (Polyergus mexicanus) that rely on kidnapped worker ants from their host species to keep their colonies running. He is awed by both the biodiversity and behavioral diversity of insects and their societies, and does everything he can to transmit entomology fever to any student that he meets. Joe has participated in many field-based research courses that have taken him to California, Arizona, Panama, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. Joe first taught for Wildlands Studies in the 2014 Argentina course. He will teach in the 2019 Spring Australia course and lead the 2020 Chile course.



Sarra Hinshaw

Lead Instructor, Summer 2019

PhD in Aquatic Biogeochemistry, Griffith University, Australia, 2008

Sarra is an aquatic biologist interested in surface and groundwater quality, nitrous oxide emissions and riparian zones. She has a wide range of research experiences including water quality research in California’s Central Valley, salt marsh health and resiliency in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and denitrification and greenhouse gases in agriculturally impacted zones in Queensland, Australia. Sarra currently teaches a range of university ecology, biology and climate change classes. She will assume leadership of our Australia program starting Summer 2019.