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​Yr 12 Marine Students
For the 23rd consecutive year, Heron Island Research Station (HIRS) hosted our Year 12 Marine Science class for a six-day field trip. Ironically, we had 23 students (and 3 staff) who caught the 5:30am bus to Gladstone. Then we were off on the ferry for a reasonably uneventful trip across to the Great Barrier Reef.
Ahhh, the first sight of Heron Island itself is like a mirage; then a postcard; then an awesome reality. It is hard to describe the reaction when the students realise that everything their teachers had said for years about this amazing place was true! Mr Sergeant, Mrs Muller (Aunty Kirrily) and I were very impressed how this wonderful group of young people got stuck into setting up our dorms; helping move the food to the kitchen; getting our gear into the teaching laboratory; and generally being helpful! Special mention goes to the volunteers (Chloe D, Rikki, Tyrone and Luca the pasta specialist) who helped with dinner on that first night.
Then Tuesday happened! First reef flat observations and the start of data collection; First snorkel at the world famous Blue Pools site; Fabulous night snorkel in the harbour with lots of Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, some Black Tipped Reef Sharks and impressively camouflaged Wobbegongs. Unless you have experienced the eerie blackness of water at night you cannot know the trepidation the students faced and overcame. Of course, the light from our torches and glow sticks must have appeared even stranger to the bemused creatures observing us. And Alyssa squealing. And Tahlia yelling out eeeeeeeevery time she saw a turtle!
Wednesday was not dull by any means, but the hard work of data collection on the reef flat continued, followed by a drift snorkel from Byland Pass to Heron Bommie. A nice man by the name of David Attenborough reckons the Bommie just happens to be in the top 10 snorkel spots in the World! Many students were amazed at the macro-plankton that the turtles were dining on; the array of fish; and the huge coral structures.
Thursday brought windy weather but the students continued their observations on the reef flat. A few things became apparent: Spaghetti Worms are more difficult to spot than Mr Wicks said they would be (oops, sorry Chloe G); and raincoats are on the Packing List for a reason (Rikki did look good in his custom tailored garbage bag).
Friday started as usual (with Anne asking "what are we doing today?" to which I replied "same as Tuesday to Thursday: waiting for the HIRS staff to let us know at 8:00am if the boats are available!"). Anyway, with the weather deteriorating Grace, Lachlan, Letitia and I went for a SCUBA dive with the PADI dive shop from Heron Island Resort. The dive led to a Turtle and Coral Trout overload! I apologised to the three students immediately when we got out…as their future diving may not ever be as good! The afternoon saw us on a bumpy snorkel over the reef flat where we had previously been collecting data.
Although the visibly was only 5-10 metres a few rays and sharks (along with myriads of fish) were seen. Trevally and the occasional shark cruised past us in the harbour as we got out. Friday night was interesting as we (well except for Chloe D who decided a dramatic first-aid moment was a better idea!) attended a seminar hosted by Coral Watch. Students heard about the largest citizen-science project ever undertaken in the marine environment: volunteers and scientists are working together to document changes in coral health using a simple colour chart.
Saturday was a frenetic rush of activity packing and cleaning followed by the trip home. Tired (and slightly more Worldly) travellers arrived home that night with some indelible memories. One enduring feature of the excursion was the seamless integration of our six International students (Mariana, Karina, Anne, Rikki, Moritz and Luca) with our BSHS students. Hopefully these friendships will extend beyond this visit (and of course we look forward to seeing Rikki when he comes back to study at UQ in 2019).
Thanks go to: the parents and carers for your support to get your students there; Mr Sergeant and Kirrily who always go 'above and beyond'; the HIRS staff who made it a safe and memorable trip; the BSHS staff who helped behind the scenes; Sunreef for their heavily discounted wetsuit hire; and a most wonderful group of kids who made the most of the opportunity!
Peter Wicks— Marine Science Teacher & 2018 Camp Coordinator