Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies
Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies

Course Content and Planned Excusions


Understanding the politics of protecting the GBR requires a breadth of knowledge about the reef and the wider region. This course builds that knowledge base through a mix of active-learning activities that includes excursions and personal meetings with experts, stakeholders, and public officials. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) Headquarters is located in Townsville, and we are pleased to be partnering with them for purposes of this course. Fred Nucifora, Director of Reef Education and Stewardship, and his staff will introduce students to the challenges facing the GBRMPA and provide an overview of how the Park is managed. We are also working closely with a local provider to organize various overnight excursions and day-trips. The itinerary will be finalized in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s what’s in the works.

Experience Australia's Flora and Fauna

The Australian continent is home to a wide range of flora and fauna. This course offers students multiple opportunities to learn first-hand about Australia’s fragile ecosystems and the unique species that inhabit them. It does so by taking advantage of some of the region’s premiere ecotourist attractions. Importantly, these excursions also serve a key pedagogical purpose. All provide time for students to meet the people who run the businesses that manage these attractions and discuss with them the sustainability strategies that they employ in order to strike a balance between the profit and environmental-protection imperatives that face the ecotourism sector. 

A visit to Billabong Sanctuary Australian Wildlife Experience, a leader in conservation, affords an opportunity for hands-on learning about Australia’s iconic species, such as koalas, crocodiles, and kangaroos. Students will also learn how the company’s corporate management practices support the business’ long-term sustainability while meaningfully contributing to environmental causes. And, they will participate in a service-learning project. 

SeaLink Travel Group, Townsville’s most experienced marine tourism operator, will escort students to some of the best sites on the GBR for snorkeling. A GBRMPA Education Team Reef Guide will accompany the class and introduce students to key features of the reef as well as to the GBRMPA’s “Eye on the Reef Rapid Monitoring Program,” a citizen-science tool that enables community members to help monitor the reef’s health. Students will learn how to collect data for the Program. A management representative from Sealink Travel Group will discuss business operations and concerns as well as the practices that local operators use to minimize their impact on the environment and help rehabilitate the GBR.

A second trip onto the GBR will take students, along with a GBRMPA Education Team Reef Guide, to Magnetic Island, where they will apply their knowledge by participating in a Reef Health Assessment under the supervision of marine experts and experienced crew. The class will overnight on the Island, staying at Bungalow Bay Koala Village, where a Ranger will educate students about the diversity of Australia’s terrestrial ecosystems and species and facilitate a hands-on introduction to Australian wildlife.

In addition to exploring the GBR, students will travel 64 miles to an inland region northwest of Townsville. During their three-night stay at Hidden Valley Cabins, an award-winning, eco-friendly resort, students will meet the owner-operator and learn how the remote, family-run business incorporates sustainable practices (like using solar power to meet all of its energy needs) into its operations. A visit to Hands on Wildlife will educate students about the dangerous animals that inhabit Tropical North Queensland, provide opportunities to see these animals in a safe and secure environment, and instruct students on how to respond to these animals should they encounter them during their trip. Students will explore the Paluma Range National Parkand Girringun National Park. Professional guides will explain the local ecosystems and lead hikes along the Running River Gorge and Witt’s Lookout Trails, the latter of which features beautiful views of the coast and Queensland’s World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics. Students will also visit Wallaman Falls, an area that has been targeted for further ecotourism development. Plummeting 1,000 feet into Stony Creek Gorge, Wallaman Falls is the largest sheer-drop waterfall in the southern hemisphere. And finally, students will also go platypus spotting!

Learn about Natural Resource Sustainability and Management

While tourism plays a significant role in the region’s economy, it is only one of several important economic sectors. Agriculture, commercial fishing, mining, and international shipping are also vital to Queensland’s economy. Each is a key stakeholder in terms of GBR policymaking. Coexistence of these industries alongside the GBR raises distinct sets of policy challenges. The course takes students into the field to tour key agricultural sites as well as the Port of Townsville, and it enables students to talk with representatives from each economic sector about their business interests, the challenges they face, and their GBR policy preferences.

Queensland accounts for roughly 95 percent of sugar produced nationally. Australia is the world’s second largest raw sugar exporter, sending over 80 percent of its production overseas, mainly to Asian markets. Locally, the sugar industry generates nearly 10,000 direct jobs and AU$379 million in wages and incomes. The class will visit the Herbert Valley sugar-growing district and tour a sugarcane plantation in Ingham, where they will learn how world-leading techniques are being implemented in an effort to protect the region’s delicate ecosystems. Students will learn firsthand about the sugar industry, its diversification, and how it’s being affected by rising demand from Asia.

Townsville is home to a high-value, commodity port that annually handles over 11 million tons of cargo worth over AU$10 billion to the Queensland economy. Seventy-five percent of this trade occurs with Asian countries. The Port of Townsville is the largest container and automotive port in Northern Australia as well as the country’s biggest exporter of copper, lead, zinc, and sugar. The class will tour the Port to gain an understanding of its importance to the local economy and consider how such a large shipping operation can coexist alongside the GBR.

Commercial fishing is the largest extractive activity within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and it’s an important contributor to Australia’s seafood industry, with over 8,000 tons of seafood harvested each year. The class will learn about different types of fishing and sustainable practices from Tom Hatley, a Project Manager of Sustainable Fishing at Reef Education and Stewardship at the GBRMPA.

Mining activity comprised 11.8 percent (AU$38.8 billion) of Queensland’s economy in 2017-18. The state’s coal and bauxite reserves are among the largest in the world and possess a high-grade quality that makes them sought-after products overseas. In June 2019, the Queensland government greenlighted a controversial new thermal-coal mine, known as the Adani Carmichael Mine, in Central Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The #StopAdani campaign claims that the mine will increase shipping traffic through the GBR and generate over 4.6 billion tons of carbon pollution over its lifespan. Students will explore these issues with a representative from the mining industry.

Meet the Scientists and Policy Experts

Learn directly from experts about the challenges facing the GBR and the strategies being developed to manage those challenges. Students will visit the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), where they will tour the National Sea Simulator, billed as the “world’s smartest aquarium,” and meet with researchers. In these meetings, students will learn about the current state of scientific knowledge on pressures on the reef from the Port, mining, fishing, agriculture, tourism/ecotourism, and human habitation. Researchers will also offer their perspectives on the politicization of science and the challenges that they confront in disseminating accurate information and combating misinformation. 

Developments on land can have important and often adverse consequences for the GBR. Paul Groves, a Marine Scientist with the GBRMPA, will educate students about the GBR catchment, explain the important role played by the GBR catchment in maintaining the reef’s health, and discuss how protecting the GBR’s long-term health depends on the restoration and enhancement of adjacent coastal ecosystems. Mike Nicholas, a private consultant formerly of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), will discuss landscape ecology and natural resource management.

Talk to Local, State, and National Politicians

Like the United States, Australia is a federal system. The GBR is located off the coast of Queensland, one of Australia’s six states. Yet, the GBRMPA is a national body. This makes for a complicated policymaking process. Students will meet with a range of elected officials and public servants tasked with making and implementing GBR policy. In these meetings, they can explore the various factors—political influence, economic imperatives, scientific evidence, etc.—that shape policy outcomes. 

Learn from Australia’s Indigenous Peoples

Over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner groups maintain long, continuing relationships with the GBR region. Australia’s Aboriginal people are widely recognized as the oldest, continuing civilization in the world. Human habitation near the GBR began tens of thousands of years before Captain Cook struck a reef near the current site of Cooktown. Yet, despite the obvious presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, British colonization began in 1788 on the legal premise that the land was terra nullius or “land belonging to no one.”

Eddie Koiki Mabo, the man whose 1992 court case (Mabo v. Queensland) jettisoned terra nullius and revolutionized land tenure in Australia by recognizing Native Title, had a longstanding connection to Townsville, as evidenced by the Mabo Memorial Sculpture located there. The course uses Mabo’s life as a lens through which to understand the history of Indigenous-settler relations in Australia. Desecration of Mabo’s grave in Townsville led to his reburial on the island of Mer. Thus, even in death, Mabo offers insights into Australian race relations. Dr. Evans will lead students on a visit to the Mabo Memorial Sculpture.

In addition to introducing students to the history of Indigenous-settler relations, the course examines the contemporary role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the local economy. To that end, we will meet with Scott Anderson, a Nywaigi Birriah descendant, Chair of the Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corporation, and Chair of the Townsville Region Indigenous Business Network. Anderson will discuss the pre-colonial culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, regional history post-European contact, and issues concerning Aboriginal business operations.

Traditional practices of the region’s Indigenous Peoples are being used to rehabilitate coastal land and protect the GBR. Mike Nicholas, a private consultant formerly of the CSIRO, will introduce students to re-vegetation processes currently undertaken by the Nywaigi traditional owners of Mungalla Station with whom he has worked closely over the years. An expert on landscape ecology and natural resource management, Nicholas has investigated the use of alternative methods for restoration and repair of coastal wetlands in northern Australia. 

Students will also visit Mungalla Station, where they will be introduced to Nywaigi Aboriginal culture and learn stories of the ancestors of the Aboriginal people from Mungalla Station and surrounding areas; learn about the Nywaigi’s Traditional Use of Marine Park Resources Agreement with the GBRMPA; and, undertake a service-learning project in which they will remove rubbish from the beach and mangrove system.

Give Back through Service Learning

The course will offer multiple service-learning opportunities. In addition to those provided by the Billabong Sanctuary Australian Wildlife Experience and Mungalla Station, students will participate in a beach clean-up project coordinated by the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, a charity that focuses on the health of the marine environment. They will learn about the problem of marine debris and the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, a national volunteer network that monitors marine debris and develops data-driven strategies to address the problem. Students will count and catalogue the debris that they collect from a stretch of coastline so that it can be entered into the Initiative’s database.

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