Our journey to this beautiful country started over a year ago with our applications and hopes that we would be chosen to join the group for the journey of a life time. We worked through saving up money, planning our journey, and packing all the things that we could possibly need while in a rainforest and on the Great Barrier Reef. We studied the poisonous and dangerous plants and animals, making sure that we knew all the things in Australia that could kill us (AKA everything). Though we thought we were prepared, nothing could have readied us for our experience here.
It is easy to remember the loud and exciting experiences that occurred during our month in the Land Down Under. The Bush Dance in Lamington where no one knew what in the world they were doing, but man! We had a good time! The time when the bus broke down on Fraser Island and every time we got stuck with the “Left! Right! Left! Right!” of Lee in the front seat. I'm sure none of us will forget sitting through the rain and wind of Ex Cyclone Oswald or falling asleep to the dulcet tones of the sheerwaters on Heron Island. Though these memories are important and will remain dear to me through the years of my life, it is the quiet moments that mean far more than the excitement.
My favorite times over the last four weeks have been those that can't really qualify under the usual terms of “exciting.” I won't easily forget the time when we stood under the stars in Lamington and could see the Milky Way extending all the way across the sky with the Hunter and his Dingo standing guard over the Seven Sisters. I won't forget sitting around the fire drinking billy-tea and listening to the story of a storm of shooting stars over the Australian desert told by the music of a dijiridoo. My mind will hold fast to the first time I saw a loggerhead turtle slide gracefully through the water on our first late night on Heron Island as we peered off the jetty into the clear blue waters or swimming through huge packs of shovelnose rays in the shallow waters of Shark Bay. These are the memories that will mean the most.
Yesterday we left paradise. I'm not saying that in a trite, flippant way. Heron Island and the Great Barrier Reef, of which the island forms only a tiny sliver, truly are paradise. The night before we left, the island began wishing us the best of goodbyes with more of those quiet moments that mean so much. Some of us were able to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean as not only the sky but the waters below filled with the most extraordinary colors and the egrets flew overhead. I thought at that moment that there could be no better way for the island and Australia to wish us farewell. I was wrong. Later that night several of us were able to experience the wonder of seeing sea turtles nest and lay their eggs and some of us even had a mother heave herself over the sand directly in front of our feet. Once again, I assumed that the island had bid its adieu and that there was nothing else it could give us before our departure that could pass up in wonder and amazement what we had already seen. Again, I was proven wrong.
The bay of the harbor on our last morning on Heron Island was stunning with clear blue waters and not a cloud in the sky. We went out to the dive boat and the harbor was full of bait fish, sharks, and three different species of rays that jumped out of the water and swam around the ship. When we made it out the reef it was kind of bittersweet. The reef was still gorgeous, but one could see the damage done by the storm and it was a reminder of how fragile these wonders are and how much they need protection in order to last into the future. Another one of those glorious quiet moments hit many of us as we encountered the most social green sea turtle who swam directly up to us and stayed nearly still, allowing us the chance to truly see the glory of those soaring giants. At one point she swam directly up to me and we floated face to face. Amazing.
This trip has allowed all of us to see the glory of the world's most precious treasures. People back home buy films that show others exploring the world's tropical rainforests or the Great Barrier Reef because it is so incredible that even on a screen it causes feelings of awe. We were there in person. We were given the opportunity to know what it is like to see the wonder face to face, so close that we could touch it. For those of us here on the trip, we have been given the opportunity to witness fading treasures. This experience has given us a perspective on natural glories that are quickly disappearing due to the actions of people all over the world. We are the lucky ones. We got to see these places and the flora and fauna they hold while they still retain much of their beauty. The saddest realization of the trip is that, if things don't change in the way that we as the human species see the world and interact with it, these places will disappear. If we don't change our expectations concerning food, travel, clothes, and play – our world will be forever changed, and not for the better. I don't want to be of the last few generations that have the opportunity to experience the feelings of astonishment when walking through the rainforest or swimming through the myriad of corals. The most potent lesson that we have learned from this trip is that these fantastic things we have seen are not permanent. We have to protect them.
I want to thank all of the people that have helped us to get here: the college, our families, our friends. We have had an unforgettable experience and the memories I have meagerly explained here are just a few of many memories that will stick with us forever. Thank you: Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, Fraser Island, and Heron Island Research Station. You've made our experience incredible. Let's hope this isn't the last time we visit this amazing country.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
“What would it mean to our ways of life, our demographics, our economics, our output of carbon dioxide and methane if we began to truly and viscerally think of ourselves as just one species among many.”
Senior Biology and History Major