Friday, April 18, 2014

If We'd Started the Semester on Heron Island, We Never Would Have Left

April 8 – 10, 2014
By Claire Hinkley

We’ve spent the last week on a tropical island paradise— turquoise waters and white sand and brilliantly multi-colored coral reef and all. Heron Island is a coral cay in Capricornia Cays National Park, and is part of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s tiny, small enough to walk around in less than half an hour, but the reef stretches far out around the island to the east. We’ve been lucky enough to stay at the University of Queensland research station located on the island, and we’ve taken full advantage of what the island and reef offer: snorkeling, reef walks, turtle-spotting and bird-watching expeditions, and beautiful sunsets.
Getting Suited for a Snorkel

Although our first couple of days were too windy to take boats out onto the reef to snorkel, the last three days have more than made up for it. Friday’s snorkel at Blue Pools in particular was perfect: calm, azure water; sunlight trickling down to light up the pinks, oranges, and purples of the coral and turn the rainbow of fish sparkling and iridescent; and warm breezes keeping us from getting too chilly as we floated, watching the underwater world beneath our goggles. The snorkeling has been amazing, and most of us have been taking full advantage of going out on the boat as many times as possible.
Snorkel Buddies!

I think my favorite part of our time on Heron happened on our very first night here. Heron Island is an established nesting site for sea turtles— mostly green (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta gigas). In the past, the island was home to a turtle soup factory, until they depleted the turtle population and had to shut down. Luckily, the turtles have come back now that the soup factory is gone. We happened to come to the island during hatching season. After a lecture on sea turtle biology, we walked down the beach at dusk. Soon, we spotted tiny dark splotches slowly traveling over the sand and coral rubble on the beach toward the ocean. Upon closer inspection, the splotches proved to be tiny turtles, their flippers too big for their little bodies, struggling over the footprint craters in the sand. As I stood still, watching, I felt a gentle, scratching pressure on my foot. I looked down to see a baby turtle scrambling over the top of my bare foot, determined to make it to the water. It was a magical moment.

Now we’re heading off to Fraser Island for the final leg of the program, where we’ll have our final exams on the biology coursework. It’s crazy that we’re almost done; it hasn’t even begun to sink in yet. For now, though, there’s still one more magnificent sunset to enjoy over the Great Barrier Reef.

Sunset Paradise

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