This was one of the more interesting Year 12 Biology camps I have undertaken with the College. While it did not rain, the impact of the wind from Cyclone Oma was clear in our activities. Beach erosion and much stronger waves were evident from early on Thursday morning. I commend the students on their behaviour, especially after being informed the vehicle ferry for Friday was cancelled. Some excellent ecology occurred on the camp. I conclude by expressing my gratitude to Mrs Smith and Mrs Pather for their help and support through the challenges that arose.
Mr Paul Jennison
Biology camp began with a 6.30am start with 36 students arriving at school for a bus to the ferry. Once we made it to Cleveland, the ferry disembarked on its way to North Stradbroke Island. Once arriving at Stradbroke, we continued our journey to The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Moreton Bay Research Station at Dunwich where we unpacked all our gear and moved onto the first activity, which was analysing the succession that occurs on Sand Dunes.
Our goal for the Sand Dunes activity was to analyse and evaluate physical parameters of the dune every ten metres from the foredune back towards land. These parameters included aspects such as; the temperature (both the air and within the soil), the exposure to the sun, types of organic matter and the wind which was greatly impacted by Cyclone Oma as it was hovering close to the QLD coast. We gathered data about the plants found in each location as well as discussing their specific adaptations. After splitting into three groups lead by a UQ tutor, we started gathering data with the use of various equipment. After the activity, it was evident that succession occurs within all parts of the sand dune; whether it be due to wind or organic matter, a variety of change is present.
After the Sand Dunes activity, the Year 12 biologists moved onto a variety of new activities including Brown Lake vs 18 Mile Swamp as well as High and Low Energy Rocky Shores.
After a short break of reapplying sunscreen and replenishing ourselves with a much-needed snack, we began the exploration of 18 Mile Swamp. The swamp is home to over 260 different species of birds and is listed as a United Nations RAMSAR wetland, meaning that it is of significant ecological importance. The swamp is largely unexplored due to its immense size and lack of accessibility. It was particularly exciting to witness such a vast natural environment that is practically untouched.
Our UQ tutors provided us with expert insight and were of much help. They informed us that they had never seen the water levels to be so low, leading us to consider the possible factors which may have led to this. A few of our peers volunteered (or were gently persuaded) to wade into the swamp to a knee-deep level and collect a sample of the water. We used a scientific device known as a 'Horiba' (which can be purchased for the low price of $10,000) to investigate the water quality. The Horiba provided us with information about the health of the swamp in terms of things such as pH, turbidity, salinity etc. With a bit of hard work and persistence, everybody managed to stagger out of the swamp and back onto the safety of dry land.
We were then faced with the challenging task of identifying a variety of different species of macroinvertebrates found in the swamp. The small size of the organisms often made it difficult to identify them, however, with some practice and a whole load of teamwork and brainpower, we eventually got the hang of it. Some of the species identified were freshwater shrimp, water mites and a whirligig beetle.
The exploration of 18 Mile Swamp and additional experiences we were given throughout camp were invaluable educational experiences. We are grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn more about the natural environments of the South East Queensland area. Even though the trip was cut short due to Cyclone Oma, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now significantly more informed and interested about the environmental features of Stradbroke Island. The camp was full of laughter and together we faced each new obstacle whenever they emerged, whether it was chasing after our hats when the cyclonic winds blew them off, or trying to avoid getting mud everywhere! I would like to thank Mr Jennison, Mrs Pather and Mrs Smith who accompanied us on the trip, as well as the UQ tutors who were always keen to answer our questions.
Many of the beaches on Stradbroke are host to a diverse array of animals and plants that live among the many rock pools. It was our job, as a cyclone approached–bringing with it 30 kilometres an hour winds, to survey the diversity of marine life within these pools as well as each pool’s characteristics. Each group began by measuring the temperature of both the water and the surrounding rock. This was followed by measurements of the wind and salinity. We concluded by documenting what species called each rockpool home, and finding the number, average size and type of each species.
We first performed this survey at a ‘high-intensity’ intertidal zone, which was just off from the shore of one of Stradbroke’s beaches. Each rockpool was different, and this can be due to factors such as exposure, the amount of time in which is submerged and even the size of the pool – which can affect the concentration of salt in the water (the salinity). After investigating the high intensity intertidal zone, we then took a visit to a low intensity zone where the water’s edge was notably less fierce. In addition to the differences between rockpools, there was a significant difference in what was found in rockpools between each zone and the adaptions of these organisms to the zone was again unique. Some using suction to keep themselves attached during water movement, a hard shell to protect their soft bodies or even the ability to move from rockpool to rockpool to suit their current requirements.
It is interesting the diversity of life that can be found in an area as small and insignificant as a rock pool. In addition to more expected organisms–such as barnacles–we also had the opportunity to expand the horizons of what we know about marine life, finding unique creatures such as limpets, mussels, urchins and crabs. Although we didn’t see any, the rockpools can also be home to some fascinating, unique and occasionally dangerous animals–such as the blue ring octopus and stone fish. It was a great experience to learn how biologists can collect data, and many of us learnt that complexity can be found in the dull if only we look a little harder.
One of the best parts of our two-day (turned one-day) Biology camp was the plankton investigation we had after dinner. A group of about seven people, including myself, went down to the jetty and fished for plankton. One of the tutors led us there and talked us through the process, and we successfully collected two different samples. This investigation was really fun, and we learnt that there is a surprisingly precise science behind collecting plankton. Using a net with a very finely woven mesh allowed us to catch the small plankton, and to keep them alive we had a collection sieve that filtered out the sediment, leaving behind the micro-organisms.
We then returned to the research facility, where we would then receive a short lecture by another one of the UQ tutors. Katya explained that, despite most plankton being microscopic, some could grow to be several metres long; and we also learnt that planktonic plants are known as ‘phytoplankton’ and that animals were identified as ‘zooplankton’. Throughout the presentation, I was amazed at just how much the oceanic food web relies on these little micro-organisms, as they are quite literally the centre to all its processes. I was completely astounded to find out that approximately 80% of the oxygen in the world is produced by phytoplankton– which photosynthesises.
Perhaps the best part of this investigation was the analysis of the plankton under microscopes. Our other two tutors, Anesia and Courtney set up each individual microscope with a petri dish of approximately seven droplets of water, some of which contained very interesting little organisms speedily moving throughout the droplets. We were told to split into pairs and analyse the different plankton we could see in our sample, sketch them out, and then attempt to identify them. This was the hardest part of this activity because when you were identifying a specific plankton, there was always something that differed from the ‘normal’ classification guide.
Despite that night being interrupted with the news of our untimely departure, I feel as though we still learnt a lot and the content we were covering in class was made much clearer and was put into perspective. I’m glad that even though we had the threat of Cyclone Oma looming over our heads, we were able to still go and do most of the field observations we needed to. This was an extremely rewarding experience, and it definitely taught me that you actually have to look for something to find it… that, and that patience is key!