Studying abroad in Australia provides the added benefit of being nothing like the United States. Yes, they speak English and have a very Americanized culture (from what I understand), but the environment, ecosystems, and animals are completely foreign. Though there are many more attractions that are not yet mentioned, I created a list of the top 5 areas or attractions I want to see while I’m there.
1. The Great Barrier Reef
Larger than the Great Wall of China, and as the only living thing visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef definitely tops the list. Lately, issues of climate change and coral bleaching have drawn a lot of attention to the reef, making it a must-see before human impact takes too much of a toll on this fragile ecosystem.
Coral bleaching is triggered by a rise or fall in temperatures. Corals are composed of colonies of small polyps, each secreting a hard skeleton of calcium carbonate. Within these skeletons, many corals contain a type of algae, called zooxanthellae. The corals provide the zooxanthellae with the protection and materials needed to undergo photosynthesis, while the zooxanthellae create food and nutrients for the coral from the byproducts of the photosynthetic process. The corals need this continued supply of nourishment in order to thrive and survive in their nutrient-poor environments. Zooxanthellae are also responsible for giving corals their vibrant, beautiful colors. When the water temperature falls in an unfavorable range, the zooxanthellae leave the corals, effectively bleaching them. The once colorful ecosystem becomes a white, ghost-like land. Corals can survive for short periods of time without the symbiotic support of the zooxanthellae, however, without a restoration of suitable temperatures resulting in a return of the algae, the corals will effectively starve. During periods of bleaching, they are also more prone to diseases and other stressors. It has become a topic of great concern for this Natural Wonder of the World.
The reef also faces other trials, such as the crown-of-thorns starfish. This spiny creature is mildly venomous and feeds upon coral reefs by turning its stomach inside out and pushing it through the mouth (scrumptious, huh?). Increased numbers of this species have wiped out sections of corals, affecting the ecosystem and tourism in these areas. The trigger of the starfish outbreaks is still debated, but research is largely underway. Attempts to remove crown-of-thorns starfish have seen little success, as they are fairly robust and have very few predators.
Of the endangered species that live there, the dugong (a relative of the manatee) and green sea turtle would be amazing to see! I’d also love to see an octopus or cuttlefish. In all honesty though, I’d just be excited to see anything that moves in the water! From what I’ve seen online about the area and what I’ve gleaned from speaking with people who have been there, Cairns seems like one of the best areas to dive. I can’t wait to dive in the ocean! Diving in pools and two different lakes in Wisconsin was fun, but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to the Great Barrier Reef!
2. The Outback
I want to ride a camel in the outback… plain and simple. Much of the Australian population is concentrated along the coastline. A large portion of the inland, however, is covered by harsh, desert-like conditions and is known as the Outback. Here is where you will find Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru. This large, sandstone geologic structure has formed over the years through the folding and erosion of rock. It has historic and cultural importance to the Anangu Aboriginal people. Apparently, camel safari tours in the Outback have become quite popular and important for tourism. Originally, camels were introduced to Australia for transport, exploration, and to help with the construction of train and telegraph lines. Today Australia has the largest herd of camels in the world, with many of them being feral. Recently, drought and culling in an effort to protect the precious habitat have helped to reduce their numbers. (For more information on the camel problem, this is a great site: Camel Fact Sheet.) Domestic camels, however, have supported tourism through daily safaris and outback camping adventures. I can’t help but be interested in supporting this industry! How often do you get the opportunity to ride a camel under the desert stars? I hope to be able to absorb some Aboriginal culture too! I always find other ways of life fascinating, and I know very little of their lifestyle and history (and everyone loves a didgeridoo).
I don’t think I could visit Australia without a trip to its most populated city. First inhabited by native Australian Aborigines, Sydney was inhabited by a British penal colony in the 1780′s. On January 26th, the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove, which is now celebrated as Australia Day. Originally consisting of small and simple huts, today Sydney supports a booming society of history, culture, and ocean.
One of the main attractions I want to visit is Taronga Zoo. It has been recommended to me by several individuals, and hosts daily shows, keeper talks, and animal encounters. How can you go to Australia without taking time out for a koala encounter?
I’ve also been told that Bondi Beach is quite beautiful. It is believed that the name is translated from an Aboriginal term meaning “the sound of breaking waves.” Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, shopping, and coastal walks comprise several of the activities that one might participate in here. It’s one of the most popular beaches in Australia.
There’s also an aquarium, museums, the opera house, and I’m sure much more that I have yet to learn about.
I’ve always been interested in going to Tasmania since learning about Australia, Tasmanian devils, and the Tasmanian tiger. It seems that the early settlers in Tasmania consisted of convicts and their guards, with thoughts of developing agriculture and industry on the island. Aboriginal natives resisted this attempt and settlers turned to enslavement and captivity to control them. The relationship between settlers and the Aboriginal natives strongly reminds me of the struggles between American settlers and Native Americans. They started out on quite rocky terms. My main draw to this island is the isolated and unusual wildlife that can be found there, but I’m sure Tasmania is host to many other activities and fascinating history.
5. Australia Zoo: Home of the Crocodile Hunter
Originally started as a wildlife park in 1970, this zoo has largely expanded and has been made famous through its association with Steve Irwin. Visitors can pat a koala, visit The Crocoseum, check out the Wildlife Hospital, feed and elephant or kangaroo, and learn about the zoos research and conservation projects. As an American, one of my earliest exposures to Australia was watching Steve Irwin on Animal Planet, and I’m pretty sure a visit to the country wouldn’t quite be complete without a visit to the Australia Zoo.
Honorable Mention: New Zealand
It’s just so close! This might be my best opportunity to get there! … And I could visit the Shire!
There’s sooo much I want to be able to do in Australia. It’s one of those times that it’s just a shame that money doesn’t grow on trees (I’m accepting donations, lol). It’s such a diverse country with quite a range of activities. I hear public transportation is extremely easy (once you understand how it works), and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get around and explore all of these areas. If not, I know I’ll have an amazing experience studying Marine Biology at Deakin and learning about the ocean at Warrnambool, but I hope to check a few of these places off my list!