When one endeavours to study abroad, one is never simply studying. Rather, one is traveling, exploring new parts of the world, and adventuring. During my time studying abroad at Southern Cross University in Lismore, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Cairns with my roommate and close friend (an international student from the Netherlands) during one of the study breaks. The main purpose of this trip was to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef – a place I had dreamed of visiting for a long time and was thrilled to finally be able to visit in person.
At my home university, I am a General Biology major and English minor, and I am very focused on conservation ecology. During my time at SCU I was focusing on marine ecology and conservation, an area I am also very interested in. Needless to say, visiting the Great Barrier Reef during my time studying marine ecology abroad was a dream come true! After visiting the Reef and raising awareness of mass coral bleaching through my Natural Resources Policy unit during my time at SCU, I now have a more well-defined path for my graduate education. I had known for quite some time that I want to pursue a PhD after I complete my undergraduate education; now I know that I want to focus my graduate research upon coral reef ecology and conservation. Perhaps the future might find me studying or living in Australia and working on the Great Barrier Reef – only time will tell.
I am at a loss for words to describe the beauty and breathtaking wonder of the Great Barrier Reef. Even in the wake of the mass coral bleaching event that I had been researching, studying, and lecturing about, the Reef was phenomenal. The zone where the bleaching transitions from severe to moderate occurs around Cairns, so I was unsure what to expect; however, the Reef looked relatively unbleached and quite healthy in some parts where we snorkeled. It is valuable to note, however, that I snorkeled only on two small reefs comprising a small part of the approximately 2300 km long expanse of the Great Barrier Reef.
My friend and I rented underwater cameras and documented as much as we could about our trip to the Reef, but we also made sure to put the cameras away and just absorb where we were for some time as well. We saw many species of coral (as one might expect), sea stars, a large diversity of fish, a sea turtle, a black-tipped reef shark, and a barracuda. I have traveled to other bio-diverse parts of the world before – I did volunteer work in the Galápagos Islands and visited the Ecuadorian stretch of Amazon Rainforest last year – but nothing I had seen compared to the amazing biodiversity and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Everything about my experience on the Great Barrier Reef was inspiring. As a conservation ecologist, I feel that I likely viewed the Reef differently than other individuals on my tour due to my background in ecology and marine ecology; however, I feel that the Great Barrier Reef is awe-inspiring to anyone and everyone (or at least it should be).
Studying abroad can be a challenging endeavor due to language barriers, culture shock, and homesickness, but when one achieves a life dream (such as visiting the Great Barrier Reef), all of those challenges seem insignificant in the grand scheme of the adventure that is life.