I had the great fortune of spending my fall quarter in Australia, which was undoubtedly among the most crazy and stupendously fun few months of my life. The BOSP Australia program is unique in that we were never truly based in one location; we were travelling and on the move nearly the entire trip and spent about two weeks max in any one place except for Brisbane, which we visited twice. The journey began upon landing in Sydney, the largest city in the country and the capital of New South Wales. Sydney is very cosmopolitan and home to almost 5 million people, and has a very large Asian influence… best Pad Thai I have ever had! Hands down. In general, I found Australia to seem distinctly like the U.S., Europe, and eastern Asia all at the same time, a phenomenon that I could not have imagined until going there.
After two weeks in Sydney, we flew way up north to tropical north Queensland and the hot, humid town of Cairns. We spent only three days there, which were punctuated by an amazing trip out to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel for a day. The location had the most amazing coral I had ever seen, and I imagine was one of the world’s more pristine reefs, especially when considering its use by so many people for snorkeling and diving.
From Cairns we quickly moved a bit inland to Wetherby Station, a cattle ranch/research station where a number of Stanford students, myself included, began our research projects. The Australia program requires that each participant complete a research project over the course of the quarter, whose topics ranged from birdcalls to starfish to Australian sports. I completed mine on inter and intra species interactions between two species of house geckoes, the native Gehyra dubia and the invasive Hemidactylus frenatus (Asian house gecko), an infamous alien species worldwide. While I found that the invader had a much less pronounced effect on the native than expected, because of the general dearth of information on the interaction between these two particular species I feel that a lot more research is needed to get any truly conclusive results, although the observed resilience of G. dubia in bodes well for its survival. However, G. dubia has already been replaced by the invasive species in other parts of its range, so its fate remains to be seen. As an aside, I also had the luck of finding a few large pythons and a coastal taipan, (!) the world’s third most venomous snake. The two above it are also found in Australia, as are around 6 other of the top ten most venomous snakes in the world.
Although I am of course a lover of the rainforest and eucalypts of the tropical far north, the highlight of the trip for me may have been the two weeks we spent on Heron Island Research Station, a small island located in the southern Great Barrier Reef. We literally snorkeled for two weeks straight, and the sheer volume of incredible creatures and more I saw there still boggles by mind. Sea turtles, at least 4 species of shark, stingrays, eagle rays, parrotfish, pipefish, cuttlefish, pufferfish, barracudas, moray eels, and many, many others could be found on the in the reef and sandy areas all around the island.
One of the more interesting incidents for me occurred on North Stradbroke Island off the coast of Brisbane, where we resided at the local research station for almost 2 weeks. We visited the popular Cylinder Beach on the east side of the island a few hours after our arrival on the first day, and within 5 minutes of entering the water I stepped on a sting ray and was stung in my Achilles heel. I believe the species was the Reticulate whipray, Himantura uarnak, although I did not get to see it as I was in excruciating pain and in about 4 feet of water in which the ray was very well disguised. It is a rather pretty animal, and the whole ordeal makes a good story and memory in retrospect.
There was a whole lot more to the trip so feel free to ask me about it, I look forward to seeing you all in lab and for another great quarter!!
And tons more pics if you ever want to see them.