Hello everyone! We’re back again with an exciting new adventure. Hope you’re all riled up and ready to go because this time, we’re heading to Australia!
We’ll be heading to Cairns, a small city situated in the northern part of Australia. Sandwiched between two world UNESCO world heritage sites, Cairns is a country that is full of scenic landscapes and bustling biodiversity.
But before we take you around Cairns, let us give you a brief summary of its history.
Captain James Cook was the first European to arrive in Cairns, on a beach which he named Trinity Bay. While they found this tropical area so inhospitable due to the dangerous reefs, dense vegetation and dangerous animals, the Aboriginal tribes had over thousands of years learnt to survive such harsh environments. Later, the discovery of gold in Palmer River in 1872 was what led to the rapid development of the region. Cairns was then officially founded in 1876, named after the then state governor, Sir William Wellington Cairns. After which, Cairns was chosen as a starting point to build a rail track to the Atherton Tableland. This allowed the opening up of rich agricultural lands, where sugar cane plantations were then the major contributor to the economy of Cairns. The railway served the growing town with access to market and supplies. During World War II, North Queensland played its own part. The allied forces had troops stationed throughout the region, which also served as a supply centre for the Pacific fleet. In the post war era, the region continued to develop and became a popular holiday destination. Appreciation and awareness of the Great Barrier Reef sparked tourism growth both domestically and internationally. In 1984, with the arrival of an international airport, there was a major tourism boom, with ecotourism now being the major source of economic growth. With this, there has been much more conservation efforts being put in to protect valuable assets of nature, including the famed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforests.
Alright guys, are you ready to roll? Let’s go!
Aaand after a 6-hour flight, we have arrived in Cairns! Soon after meeting our guides, we head off to Trinity beach, one of the most favoured beaches in Cairns. Also, its stinger season, so swimming is only allowed in stinger nets. Stinger nets keep out lethal box jellyfishes, but smaller jellyfishes can still enter! So its safer to swim in a stinger suit.
Group picture at Trinity Beach!
Need a break for lunch? Alright, let’s stop here for a bit then! Nothing is better than having a nice sandwich by the beautiful beach.
Enjoyed your lunch? It’s now time to head to James Cook University (JCU), a leading institution in research addressing critical challenges facing the tropics. We’ll even get a tour around their research facilities, featuring many dangerous species, including the stonefish and pufferfish.
Mr Stonefish says hi!
Many stonefishes are kept in JCU, where they are milked for venom and allowed a few months to recuperate before being milked again. These venom collected are used to make antivenom and also for research purposes.
The pufferfish eyes us warily.
The one and only crown of thorns starfish.
The crown of thorns starfish feed on coral reefs. With nutrient run-off resulting in increased amounts of phytoplankton, which their larvae feed on. In their adult stage, they feed on corals and is a major cause of damage in the Great Barrier Reef.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. While this cone snail may look harmless, it could inject venom into you that would kill you within 30 minutes.
Mr Mantis Shrimp judges us from a distance.
They have 12-16 types of photoreceptors, hence able to see more colours than us!
Irukandji jellyfish are the smallest, but most venomous of box jellyfishes. Despite a small body size of about 5mm, its tentacles can grow up to 1m long. Their tentacles are armed with many clusters of nematocysts, as seen as the spots along the tentacles.
That brings us to the end of our tour at JCU and its time to check in to our rooms! We’ll be heading out for dinner later at Outback Jack for some delicious western food (beware of the portion though – it’s huge!) Do take note that there are hoards of endangered Spectacled Flying Foxes in the trees, so be careful to not get hit by it’s poop!
Hope you have a good rest, a long day awaits you tomorrow!
Ahoy there matey! Hope you had a good night’s sleep because today, we are going out to sea!
Our destination will be Fitzroy Island, located about 45 minutes from the mainland but yet contains one of the world’s most priceless treasure trove: the Great Barrier Reef. That’s right, we are visiting the famous UNESCO world heritage site and seeing it with our very own eyes! I hope you are excited!
Alright, let’s quickly get on the ferry and set off! No sitting on the upper deck though.
Boarding the ferry!
And we have arrived! Welcome to Fitzroy Island!
Before we get to the great barrier reef, let’s pop over to the turtle rehabilitation center for an exclusive behind the scenes tour.
The turtle rehabilitation centre had started off in 2000 in Cairns, with the new facility on Fitzroy Island opening in 2013. The land for which the facility is built on Fitzroy Island was actually donated by the owner of a nearby resort.The facility in Cairns specializes in round-the-clock care for turtles that are fatally injured while the facility on Fitzroy Island is for fattening up those turtles that have almost recovered and preparing them for release.
The Great barrier reef is home to six out of the seven species of marine turtles, and within the facility alone, we can see three of those species. Let’s move in!
At the entrance, we see two green turtles that are almost ready for release. Look at the both of them enjoying their meal of squid! This tank is used for filming as well.
Over here, we have a female olive ridely turtle! She was warded after being discovered with warts all over her body. These warts are from a virus, and may affect the turtle if there are too many present.
This guy is another male olive ridely turtle. He was found entangled in a fishing net. While he was struggling to get free, one of his fins was almost cleanly cut off by the net while another was very badly injured and had to be amputated. Luckily, both of the fins were on opposite ends of the body and he is still able to swim now! He enjoys a good ol’ head scratch as well!
Over here is a hawksbill turtle! As you can see, its head is very different from the other turtles as it is curved. It is quite rare for them to rehabilitate a hawksbill turtle.
Lastly, here is the beautiful Margaret. Estimated to be well over a hundred years old, she measures up to about 1.5m and weighs over 150kg! She is a green turtle, but as you can see, she isn’t really very green. The reason that they were named as such was actually because the soup that they make is green! For Margaret, she was found starving and is now currently well on her way to be fattened up!
Nowadays, many turtles are found starving due to blockages in their gut. A few species of turtles eat jellyfish, and usually mistake plastic bags in the ocean as their food. As plastic doesn’t break down, it simply causes a blockage in their intestine and the turtle is unable to digest any other food and starves to death. For Margaret, however, she is mainly vegetarian and eats algae and seagrass, but she too is susceptible to being entangled in abandoned fishing nets and drowning.
It is quite depressing, but all species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or vulnerable. As a few species of sea turtles tend to migrate, it is important for an international law that can protect these animals, if not it may result in an extinction. Australia has a law for the conservation of the turtle species and is also a member of an international committee for the protection of marine turtles and its’ habitat.
Did you know that Singapore does have visits of sea turtles as well? Sea turtles have been spotted returning to East Coast Park’s beaches to lay their eggs and visiting our offshore islands. Recently, efforts have been made to increase the conservation of the two critically endangered marine turtles living on our shores and our very own sea turtle hatchery will be set up on Sister’s Island next year as part of the Marine park.
Now now, I’m sure you want to stay here and learn more about turtles, but we really have to go. We have a boat to catch! That’s right, are you ready to finally see the Great Barrier Reef with your very eyes? Let’s head to the glass bottom boat!
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful reefs on this planet. Considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world, it is so huge that it can be seen from space! Home to the worlds’ largest collection of corals (in fact, more than 400 different kinds of coral), coral sponges, molluscs, rays, dolphins, over 1500 species of tropical fish, more than 200 types of birds, around 20 types of reptiles including sea turtles and giant clams over 120 years old. It spans across 3000km, but we are only visiting the most northern part of the reef.
It’s a good thing too, because due to global warming, the great barrier reef has suffered a mass bleaching event and the northern most part was the least affected, with 83% of the corals surviving, while the upper parts of the reef only has about a 30% survival rate.
Anyway, take a look down below!
Yep, those corals are huge! Usually, we name the corals after how they look like so that people can easily identify them. That is how the brain coral and spaghetti coral came about! Wait, look over to the side!
Wow! That’s our first wild turtle today! That was a small green turtle. Did you manage to capture a picture of it? No? Aw that’s a shame.
Well, while most of the great barrier reef is protected, we have different sorts of laws that apply to different people. For example, the aboriginal people have special rights to hunt turtles and other animals for spiritual rituals or special events. However, some tribes did forgo hunting once they heard of the plight of the animals. Some rules include the inability to conduct deep sea trawling in some areas and some areas are designated as zones which no one is allowed to enter as it is particularly fragile. You can visit this site to learn more about the zoning plan.
However, despite the worldwide fame that the Great Barrier Reef has, it was not an easy journey. Before, the government focused mainly on agriculture as that was Cairn’s biggest industry. However, when the price of sugar suddenly dropped, it was only then did the Governement turn to tourism. The Great barrier reef is the number one tourist attraction is Cairns, and this then translates into better protection for the reef. Not only will more attention be paid to the maintenance and health of the reef, tourists also go back with newfound knowledge and appreciation of the nature we have and hopefully opt to make a change to protect the environment.
Yet, the Great Barrier Reef is still not safe. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to coral reefs all around the world. With the warmer water temperatures and acidity, corals may choose to release their zooxanthellae as the conditions are not ideal. Bleached corals can still survive and take in new zooxanthellae when conditions improve, however, if the bleaching lasts too long, the coral will eventually die. As mentioned previously, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from a mass coral bleaching that has resulted in a high mortality rate of corals. In Singapore, our corals also faced a mass bleaching event this year that spanned across a couple of months. Our shores are still being monitored to try and estimate the extent of the corals that were affected.
Alright, that’s all the time we have for now! Time to board the boat and head back to the mainland. Hope that you’ve learnt something from this trip and are inspired to explore more of the shores back at home. See you tomorrow!
Good morning! Today we will be visiting Wildlife Habitat Centre, which is located in Port Douglas! Unlike conventional zoos, where the animals are usually enclosed in cages, Port Douglas puts YOU into the habitats of these animals. Wildlife Habitat is divided into 4 distinct North Queensland environments, namely the Woodland, Wetlands, Rainforest and Savannah. Let’s go!
The house of finches! There are finches flying around freely as they chirp loudly. Most finches weave intricate grass nests to raise their young, do spot them as you look up! There are 4 species of finches species found in the park – Gouldian Finch, Red-browned finch, Double-barred finch and Masked finch.
A chick of the black-necked stork.
The centre features the world’s only successful captive breeding pair of black-necked stork. The black-necked stork is the only representative of its family within Australia. The highlight however, was the koalas!
Sadly, the koalas were sleeping when we visited them 😦 There were also spotted tail quolls, the largest of its kind on the mainland. It is a carnivorous marsupial, belonging to the same family (family Dasyuridae) as the Tasmanian Devil.
The rainforest habitat features the cassowary walk. There are 3 known cassowary species, but only the Southern Cassowary is found in Australia. A keystone species, the cassowary plays an important role in rainforest regeneration as they disperse seeds over long distances. A cassowary eats 2-5 kg worth of fleshy fruits per day. These fruits have very little flesh, which matches the weak digestive system of cassowaries. After digesting the flesh, the seeds are egested out. Unlike many other birds where the female raises her chicks, the male cassowary takes care of his clutch of around 4 eggs and then raises his chicks. Remember, if you meet a cassowary, always have something, like a tree, between the both of you!
One of the largest of the arboreal mammals in Australia, the Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo is not commonly sighted as it resides in the rainforest canopy. Their muscular and powerful forelinds and broad hind feet allow them to move in both a quadrupedal and bipedal motion, unlike most kangaroos and wallabies. Wildlife Habitat is one of the only 2 zoos in the world that houses and breeds tree kangaroos! Indeed, we are really lucky to see the tree-kangaroos!
Down the Kangaroo walk, be amazed by kangaroos and wallabies basking under the sun casually. Offer them some feed, and they might just approach you! 😀
Lunch with the birds
It was an interesting experience having lunch with tens of birds eyeing at your food xD We had a naughty green parrot visiting the tables and ripping apart the tissue paper, playing with our cutlery. We also had the opportunity to take a picture with a yellow-tailed black cockatoo!
After interacting with animals in Wildlife Habitat, we set off into the wild!! That’s right, we are heading INTO the Daintree Rainforest.
60% of the world’s biological diversity are found in rainforests, yet rainforests only covers 7% of the land area on Earth! So, why are rainforests so rich in diversity? Firstly, the climate within rainforests are much more consistent, with lesser fluctuations in physical conditions. The warm temperature and the huge amount of rainfall promotes the growth of plants, which then serves as food sources for other animals. This food supply is present all year round, which supports the huge biological diversity living there. Secondly, the internal rainforest environment has large heterogeneity due to the differing altitude, topography and even the soil type present. These varied habitats allow the evolution of plants and animals specialized for each of them, contributing to the diversity of rainforests.
Daintree Rainforest contains the world’s oldest surviving rainforest, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent, with an area of around 1,200 square kilometres. Interestingly, there was a one-way exchange of plants from Asia to Australia when the continents crashed. At sea level, 47% of the plants in Daintree Rainforest are from Asia, while at the mountain peaks, the numbers dropped to 3%. From a total of 19 primitive flowering plant families on Earth, 12 families are represented in the Daintree region, the highest concentration in the world. The Daintree Rainforest also preserve major stages of the earth’s evolutionary history, unique natural phenomena such as the coastal scenery, mountains and gorges, significant habitats for conservation of biological diversity, as well as the indigenous ecological knowledge possessed by the aboriginal people of Australia.
While travelling, we spotted a cassowary with 5 chicks!!!
Mossman Gorge (ngadiku dreamtime walks, kuku yalanji land)
Are you ready for your first step into the Daintree Rainforest? Look no further, here we go! Let’s take a short walk through the rainforest with our Aboriginal guide, who will show you the ways of his people.
This tribe is known as kuku yalanji and they have been living in this forest long before you were born. But before we start on our journey, we have to perform a smoking ceremony, where we ask for permission from their ancestors to enter the forest and protect us.
Now don’t forget to grab a walking stick, and we’re off!
Oh, look at that! Do you see that the tree is bent? Whenever we are sent into the forest and we get lost, we simply bend the saplings of the trees in the direction that we are going. They then grow up to be huge trees with a bend, and that is how we are able to find our hunting paths. That is why our grandparents always tell us to always pay attention to our surroundings.
Ah yes, here we have one of my favorite fruits! These blue quandongs and white bumpy satinash were like our sweets when we were kids. They are absolutely edible and very tasty.
Oh but this big fruit over here is very poisonous. This fruit is only eaten by the Cassowary, who helps to disperse its seeds. Should you see a Cassowary, always make sure that there is something between the two of you, if not if could just charge and attack!
Woah, watch out over there! That is a wait-a-while vine, with hooks that can latch onto you! If you get entangled and keep trying to walk forward, it will only dig deeper into your skin. So, if you do happen to get trapped, stop and remove the vine the opposite way!
Ah, these trees are our friends. You see these thick roots of the tree? We use these to carve out our shields and boomerangs. However, once we carve them out of the root, we do not touch the tree again and allow it to regrow. After all, if you take care of the forest, it takes care of you. We also use these roots as a form of communication. We can simply take a rock and strike it on the root and the sound travels far and wide.
Over here, our grandparents tell us stories. One of the stories that I remember is how this land came to be. Once upon a time, there was a hero named Kubirri. He helped many villages far and wide. One day, an evil spirit Wurrumbu came and terrorized us. Kubirri came and fought with Wurrumbu along with his friends, the tree kangaroo and the Cassowary. However, Wurrumbu was strong, so after fighting for a long time, Kubirri finally won and holds back the evil spirit who is now confined to The Bluff above Mossman River, Manjal Dimbi has been anglicised to “Mt Demi” and Kubirri is known as the “Good Shepherd.”
Over here, they also told us about our totem animal. Each family has one animal that they cannot hunt. For my family, it is the tree kangaroo.
See these marks on my left arm? They are painted using dyes made from things you can find in the rainforest around you, such as various plants and clays. Everything that we need to survive can be found right here in the rainforest, whether it be our food, medicine, or supplies. The rainforest is our home, our supermarket, and our pharmacy. These marks represent who I am, the designs are unique for each tribe. If I were to meet someone from another tribe, by looking at these marks, they would be able to recognise that I am of the Kuku Yalanji tribe, and therefore would be able to tell what language I speak.
Our guide then picked up a bunch of Sassafras leaves and rub them in the cold water. These leaves became foamy and we learnt that it can be used as a substitute for soap in the forest.
Learning how to differentiate poisonous fruits are extremely important to survive in the rainforest. To do so, fruits are usually thrown into the water and if it is avoided by fish, it is most likely poisonous.
It is important to look where you walk in the forest! Look for these stinger trees. They have heart-shaped leaves and its edges are covered in tiny hairs. These needle-like hairs can cause extreme, long lasting pain upon contact with skin. If you panic and struggle, these hair may become aerosols and damage the lining of your respiratory tract.
The kids are taught how to survive in the forest from a very young age. They learnt how to build temporary shelters made from vines to endure rainy nights. Mussel shells are for communication as clicking them together produce a sharp, loud noise that can be used as an alarm. Hitting rocks against a buttress root produce a deeper, hollow noise that is also used for communication.
We spent the evening at the Beach House. Situated next to a beach, the views at sunset were breath-taking! It was really pitch dark at night, and you can hear the calls of unknown animals as you walk along the pavement.
Have a good rest!
Good morning! Here we are, at the beach at 5am, all ready to catch the sunrise. It is the perfect place to take instagram-worthy pictures, with the skies tinted with shades of pink and orange, the vast, blue ocean and the rising sun!!
Hop on as we take you through the evolution of land plants in the Marrja Boardwalk! As you walk along the Marrja Boardwalk, catch a glimpse of the hornworts and liverworts, the first land plants, dominating the forest floors.
Next, we have the club mosses, also known as the lycopods. Lycopods used to dominate the forests, however the emergence of gymnosperms later on caused these forests of club mosses to collapse, which eventually serves as the foundation of these forests.
Look up at the trees! Do you see the basket ferns? Basket ferns are epiphytes, which are plants that grow harmlessly upon another plant, usually a tree, and derive moisture and nutrients from their surroundings. The basket fern has two types of leaves. The photosynthetic leaves carry out photosynthesis, and once they die, they are shedded. However, for the non-photosynthetic leaves, once they die, they form a basket-like structure, collecting rainwater and nutrients from the decomposing leaves.
There are also mangroves found here in the rainforest! Mangroves are important ecological sites as they serve as nurseries for many crustaceans, fishes and even crocodiles. Mangrove ferns and mangrove moss have been dominating these mangroves since 400 million years ago!
The looking glass mangrove seeds are dispersed by water and interestingly, each seed has a keel and a sail, which allows them to float out to the sea!
James Cook University Canopy Crane
Also known as the Daintree Rainforest Observatory (DRO) Research Facility, it features a canopy crane standing at 47m tall, and a radius of 55m.
The canopy crane allows researchers to study the layers of the canopy from a bird’s eye view, and not to mention, the view is amazing!! Fun fact: At the end of the crane lives a family of osprey with 2 chicks!
After a 4 hour journey to Mungalli Falls, we are heading to Mount Hypipamee National Park for a night walk! We are really lucky to spot many possums, fireflies and several huge insects.
The night sky at the mountains is beautiful. The stars were shining so brightly, and there were so many of them! Indeed a view that we as city dwellers will never get to see in the urbans.
Platypus viewing at Mungalli Falls
*Yawns* In this perfect aircon-temperature morning at Mungalli Falls, we are on our way to catch some platypus swimming around in the water!
Platypus have very sensitive sensory systems and can pick up even the slightest sounds and vibrations from the ground. So we have to remain very quiet throughout the walk! Shhhh..
There it is!
Platypus are brown, streamlined monotremes that look like a beaver with a duck’s face. Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs! The females have modified sweat glands that secrete milk to nourish their young.
Interestingly, male platypus have a double-headed penis. While its shape and function is not fully understood, it has been postulated that the left head helps to reach the ovaries more easily. But that is not their only weapon! They also have venom glands at each of their hind legs which will swell every time during their mating season. Ouch!!! So it will be wise to not stay so close to one!
Unfortunately, platypuses are often caught in yabby traps. As the name suggest, yabby traps are set up to catch yabbies, a freshwater crustaceans. Platypuses feed on yabbies and hence are lured into the traps. Once they are trapped, they will drown within 2-3 minutes. Catching yabbies are some of the most popular summer activities, the period when female platypuses will be actively foraging, in search of food for their young kids back in their burrow. When these female platypuses drown, their young ones will perish too. Now that you are reading this, please help to spread the awareness and limit the use of these yabby traps!
(Image reference: http://platypusspot.org/blog/general-news/death-traps-for-platypuses)
Insect Trapping Activity
After a satisfying breakfast complete with eggs and bacon, we are heading off to do some insect trapping activity!! Eeks, you may be wondering what is the need of this activity. Well, this helps us to assess forest health and monitor the number of leaf eating invertebrates. Plants undergoing defoliation have about 75% chance of dying.
The insect trapping set-up contains mouth wash to preserve insects. The trap are usually placed a few days before we observe them. We will strain the water using a sieve and transfer the insects onto a paper plate for observation.
A Goshawk made an appearance as well!
After a fulfilling insect trapping activity in the morning, we head on to the highlight of the day- the Mabi Forest! Mabi Forest is a popular spot among tourists who flocked here to observe the majestic sight of the curtain fig tree here. The land around this forest has been cleared for agricultural uses and this patch of forest was originally reserved for settlement until it is declared as a State Forest later in 1915. It is known that the Southern Cassowary and the Musky rat-kangaroo are extinct from this forest. Hence, the protection of the remaining inhabitants are extremely important. We can all do our part by visiting these forests responsibly (no killing, no littering, etc) and help to spread awareness!
Hmmm, as you are reading this, you may have another question in mind. Why is this forest named Mabi? Mabi is an Aboriginal word for Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, the largest mammal found here!!
And here is the long-awaited sight of the curtain fig!! *cues gasping sounds*
This curtain fig tree consists of the remnants of a tree that has been “strangled” by a green fig. Can you guess how this curtain fig tree is formed? (Make a guess first before scrolling down for your answer!)
We decided to head on to Lake Eacham and have our lunch while taking in the marvelous view of the lake. Our guide commented that washing our hair in these lakes will make them worthy for filming hair commercials.
Lake Eacham is home to several native species of turtle and fish such as the saw-shelled turtle and Lake Eacham rainbow fish.
A saw-shelled turtle peeking out from the roots!
Here’s something that is a bigger mystery than your math questions: Lake Eacham is an enclosed catchment cut off from other water bodies. It is unknown how some native of marine organisms arrived here in this lake!
We were lucky to spot a banded grunter. Native to Northern Australia, banded grunter are pretty aggressive and have high proliferation rate. They are considered to be invasive outside their native distribution range.
Water Quality Test
We were greeted by a warm and friendly guide who showed us how to conduct water quality test. What is the importance of a water quality test? For us to drink? Noooo. It is important for us to gauge the growth of freshwater algae. As the freshwater streams converge into the oceans, the freshwater algae will die and decompose, which serve as extra nutrients taken up by marine algae. By monitoring water quality, we can prevent disastrous algae bloom from happening in the oceans. It is also important to measure the water quality as it is home to several fish species. (refer to photo below)
Our guide has laid up some nets beforehand but unfortunately there was no fish in any of them. 😦 He then grabbed some pails and small nets and offered to go down into stream to catch some fish just for us!
With some effort, he caught a goby. Gobies are small fishes and they have pelvic fins fused together to form a suction cup to keep them anchored on a hard surface at the bottom of the river, such as a piece of rock or coral. Isn’t that cool!
Oh well, time to head back to Cairns! It’s been a tiring day, visiting so many places and doing all these activities. But, since its your last night, you get to have a nice evening strolling around the city of Cairns!
Well, they say that all good things must come to an end. It’s been a fulfilling 6 days with all of you and we hope that you’ve learnt as much as we did. This trip to Cairns has not only been able to expose us to a similar yet different ecosystem as the one we have in Singapore, but it has also increased our understanding of environmental issues in Australia. It was very humbling to have been able to see all of the spectacular wildlife that is unique to Australia and to see the amount of effort put into the conservation of these species. This makes us think back to our own native flora and fauna in Singapore and question how we are able to better protect the nature that we have right at our doorstep.
We’d like to thank our school, NUS High School, as well as the teachers-in-charge for giving us the opportunity to go on this trip.
‘Til next time folks!