Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day 1 (by Heather McFarlane)

This post is the 2nd try. The first is housed on Bryan's broken computer...

When we boarded the bus, all seemed well. The group dynamics was synergistic, each student laughing and joking with one another. Before we left NEC, the necessary Girl Scout cookies were acquired and devoured. The bus ride to the airport was uneventful. However we may have to leave a student behind—apparently there was a typo with the Visas. On the other hand, everyone cleared through security. It was now a mission to find the gate and food (Update: We didn’t have to leave the student behind, her Visa was corrected). The plane was boarded and the seven hour plane ride began.  
It is an interesting game, sitting next to a stranger on a plane. Some students just walk in the life, others don’t. For example, one student made two new best friends from Australia. Another student made connections in her future career path. Sadly, another student was repeatedly sneezed on during the entire flight. 
Once the plane landed at the LAX airport, students dispersed and hunted for food. Students were so desperately hunger, they spent $20 on a bacon hamburger. Sated students tiredly shuffled onto the plane. Energy was restored when students realized that the plane wasn’t filled. Most of the students were able to obtain a row to themselves. Unfortunately, the energy quickly vanished when the students realized that they were to spend 15 hours on the plane. 
The 15 hour flight finally came to an end. Another intriguing game during air travel is airport security and customs. It seems that each airport tries to devise and engineer a more complicated and difficulty set of rules than the next airport. This airport was no different. Due to confusing signs and misdirections from airport security staff, we almost missed the airplane destined to transport us to Cairns.
Temper tantrums were very nearly had at the ticket booths. With quick maneuvering, the crisis was adverted. Hastily throwing our backpacks into the luggage chute, sprinting through the security checkpoint, and cramming as tight as physically possible on a small bus, we boarded the plane and arrived in beautiful, sunshine Cairns. 

Leaving the airport was easily enough once the bus arrived. Several businesses quickly caught the eyes of the students and plans were made. After converting American dollars to Australian currency (which was ah-mazing because handing over $160US you receive $190AUS), the students scoured the town. Discoveries such as an infinity pool, fabulous eateries, and other small wonders helped brighten the students day. 

We all reconvened at out award-winning hostel, the Northern Greenhouse, to listen to a presentation from climate scientist Steve Trone. The presentation explain the different climates, habitats and ecosystems that make up Australia. It was interesting to discover that the rainforest barely make up less than 1% (0.26% to be exact) of Australia. The Australia Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world and listed as a World Heritage. 
World Heritage listings recognizes areas of culture/natural throughout the world and seeks to protect and perserve the area. Rainforest are extremely important because they are home to a variety of plants and animals. The Australian Rainforest is home to 65% of the countries ferns, 36% of the countries mammals, 60% of the countries butterfly species, and many more. As it seems, Australia’s rainforest is one of the richest countries on earth in terms of biodiversity of plant species and animal species. Many of the animal species in Australia cannot be found in the wild anywhere else. 
However, the rainforest doesn’t just affect plant and animal diversity, they play a vital role in human existence. The many plant species help humans life by cleaning the air we breathe through the conversion of CO2 to O2. Furthermore, the rainforest provides food and medicine. Though the rainforest is extraordinarily old, it can still be decimated by tropical storms such as cyclones.
Steve explained to extremely harsh cyclones that affected Australia: Larry and Yasis. Larry was considered a bad cyclone because of what took place after the storm. There was little aftercare put in place so keystone plants and animals, such as the Cassowary, didn’t survive.
The Cassowary is a large flightless bird. It has a very poor digestive system and majorly eats seeds, berries and other seeded fruits. Due to the poor digestive system, the eaten seeds are not affected and when the Cassowary passes its bowls, the seeds are distributed across a wide area. This distribution of  seeds is an extremely important role in the dispersal of the rainforest plant species. Without the Cassowaries, the affected areas of the rainforest from cyclone Larry, weren’t able to successfully reclaim the land. One of the main things learned from Larry was how to care for the Cassowaries without hindering the natural circle of life. When cyclone Yasis hit Australia, Australians were more prepared for the aftercare. However, Steve said that Australia has much more to learn.
Once the presentation was finished, the students got ready for dinner. We headed to a local restaurant and enjoyed a lovely local cuisine. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel after a night walk on the boardwalk.   

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