Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

6/2 – Jamie

G’Day Mates! We had a fantastic day out here in the Yungaburra area.

We started our day by meeting with Simon Burchill, the president of Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands Inc, otherwise known as TREAT. TREAT is a community based tree planting group dedicated to planting native trees in areas that have been deforested.

Students pulling weeds

Pulling weeds helps the ecosystem revegetate! 

TREAT is a volunteer based program, with many local landowners helping out to plant trees for many different reasons, such as improvement of water quality and rebuilding re-vegetated wildlife corridors – which allow native wildlife to travel between areas of forest. TREAT also designs and manages complex projects in order to treat the land of the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland. We specifically helped out in the Peterson Creek Corridor, which TREAT is working to establish between the Curtain Fig Tree area and the trees around Lake Eacham section of the Crater Lakes National Park.

Students working pulling weeds

Some of the group working hard!

Simon told us about the history of TREAT and how TREAT has been working since 1982 to re-vegetate the area. These wildlife corridors are extremely important to the ecosystems in the rainforest! When we tear down the rainforest but leave specific sections, there is no way for the wildlife to move around. This may not seem like a big deal, but in order for these animals to breed and for the ecosystem to be genetically diverse they need to have this place to move. This creates a domino effect which causes major problems for the ecosystem.

We worked in two groups to pull a weed that was blocking native plants from growing. This weed has taken over the area and was harming the ecosystem there. We got to work and rolled up our sleeves, cutting down the weeds and putting them into a compost pile which would be used to help plant more native plants!

We even found a Cane Toad, which is an invasive species in this area. He secretes toxins from his skin which means he can’t be eaten by other animals and is taking over. During our trip, we learned a lot about invasive species and the great problems they are causing in Australia. Ecosystems are extremely intricate systems that can be difficult to understand at first – and this is why humans bringing in animals that do not belong to an area can cause great problems that cannot be predicted by humans. Another example of this involves the problem of rabbits in Australia. When Europeans first colonized the land of Australia, they brought with them rabbits for hunting – an innocent enough seeming practice. However, these people did not predict the extreme problems that are caused by these animals. Rabbits reproduce very quickly and had no native predators in Australia, causing the population to go out of control. These rabbits then compete for food with native species and overeat plants which causes problems as well. I believe the invasive species such as rabbits and the cane toad are a great example of the ecosystems’ complexity and the need to study the consequences of our actions as humans. So when Simon took the cane toad off the be made into compost, I was sad originally and regretted showing him the toad. Then, I remembered the damage these animals cause and how they should not have been here in the first place!

a cane toad

Cute, but problematic.

While on half of the group worked, the other half went with Simon looking for a Tree Kangaroo. Tree Kangaroos are marsupials with long tails that mostly live in trees and are cousins of the Kangaroos we know that live on the ground, but they look more like bears. These Tree Kangaroos are just one species that needs to move around in their own territory as they are mostly solitary animals but they need to get to other territories to breed. But, when the rainforest is cut down and their territories are isolated, they cannot breed.  They are just one reason why these revegetation projects are so important! Human impacts upon the earth have been very detrimental to many species and have resulted in the extinction of many. However, work projects like these show the “handprint” we can have on the earth – the impact we can make by doing something to help the environment. When we study the environment and the impact we have on it, we can work to make this impact positive. However, these systems require more impact than planting a few trees. Simon’s work with TREAT involved careful planing and lots of research!

Tree Kangaroo sitting in a tree

A Tree Kangaroo

After our hard work, we said goodbye to Simon and went to have a wonderful picnic lunch at Lake Eacham. Lake Eacham is part of Crater Lakes National Parks, and was formed by the volcanic activity in this area. It was a beautiful blue lake surrounded by rainforest. Some of the group went for a refreshing swim before lunch!

Students in front of lake Eacham with the MSU flag

The group in front of Lake Eacham, representing MSU!

After lunch, we visited Nerada Tea Plantation, the largest tea plantation in Australia! They began their company in 1985, but had to wait 6 years to harvest. They have today about 746 acres of tea. There are four main kinds of tea – white, black, green, and oolong. This tea plantation we visited specifically makes black tea.  We arrived and were greeted by the friendly staff who served us some of their amazing tea. Many students also purchased their products – my favorite was the Green Tea with Lemon Myrtle!

Cup of tea on saucer

The tea was delicious!

We then walked up to see the factory which processes the tea. They pick all of the leaves by machines due to the high labor costs in Australia, which are then sent to the factory for processing. The machines that pick the leaves can harvest up to 4 tons an hour! Then, these leaves are allowed to sit in bins to get some of their natural tea flavor, which is called withering. The leaves are cleaned and separated, dried, and shredded. The most important step is oxidization – where they are allowed to ferment for 90 minutes in order to improve the character, color, aroma, and flavor. The leaves are dried and shredded again to get to the right size and then packaged into bags. Some fun facts about the tea plantation are that there are no pests or bug problems because the plant is so naturally bitter, and they never irrigate their crops because they have enough rainfall in this area! This really is a sustainable way to farm, because you are taking less water from lakes and rivers. Farmers make choices everyday and this choice of where and what to farm can really make an impact on how sustainable your practice is. Again, this shows the need for careful study and planning in making decisions in order to be more sustainable.

Factory machines

Part of the tea factory

Next, we visited Gallo’s Dairy, Chocolate and Cheese Factory. Located nearby, this family owned business has opened its doors to show the public what they do in their company. This company was started from a family that immigrated from Italy in the 1920s, and they started their company in 1937. Their company uses new and old techniques to create new and exciting flavors while also keeping the best ones around. We got to see the milking barn and even got to see some calves! They milk about 350 cows a day twice a day, averaging about 20 L per day per cow of milk! They have about 900 total cows, including the calves. They have 1,000 acres of land, which they used to grow corn, sugar cane, and use for pasture for their cows. Each cow can be milked for about 4-5 years at this factory. The Factory was bright and lively and full of people seeing the process of the cheese and chocolate making. I think this really shows the impact of education which I am highly interested in – these people can learn where their dairy products come from which can lead to more careful choices in what they consume. This field visit highlighted what I believe is the most important part of sustainability and sustainable practices – education and learning.

Cow biting persons hand

We even met some of the locals!

We were then lucky enough to sample that day’s cheeses made, which were all delicious. Some students bought cheese, chocolate, and ice cream. Our kind instructor Jim also purchased chocolate for all of us!

We then stopped at Curtain Fig Tree, which we missed yesterday. This beautiful tree (or rather, many trees) looks almost like a curtain in the middle of the rainforest. It was formed by a fig tree “taking over” another tree, which then leans on to another tree causing almost a domino effect. The tree is constantly growing, as the new shoots send their root systems to the ground which forms the beautiful curtain effect. Seeing this awe-inspiring part of nature again made me marvel at the intricacy of this rainforest environment system.

The curtain fig tree

The beautiful Curtain Fig Tree

We then came back to On The Wallaby, where some of us went into town to purchase opals and some of us went to try and find a platypus in the creek nearby. We did see one floating at the top of the water!

The day ended with a beautiful and fun night canoe. Half of the group went out at night looking for tree kangaroos, possums, and other wildlife. We saw a mother and baby tree kangaroo, with many pademelons and possums! These animals are nocturnal, so it is really best to see them at night when they are most active. We had to be very quiet so as to not disturb them, which gave us the best chance of seeing them. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share with everyone, but this was a great experience that pictures could not capture!

These last days continue to make me ponder the way in which education and research can be a catalyst for change and cause a positive impact on the environment. The systems in which we interact with on a daily basis are so complex and our choices have an impact on them. In order to make the right choices, we must be educated and informed on how these systems work. The end of the trip is also hitting home with me how different systems interact; however, education can be the root that can help people see the bridge between these systems.

What another great day in Australia. In a week we will be back in the States, so we are making the best of our time left here!

Sources:

Information about TREAT – http://www.treat.net.au

Information about wildlife corridors – http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-wildlife-corridors.html

Invasive species (rabbits) – http://www.rabbitfreeaustralia.org.au/rabbit_problem.html

More information about Tree Kangaroos – http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/matschies-tree-kangaroo/

Lake Eacham information – http://www.queensland.com/attraction/Lake-Eacham-Crater-Lakes-National-Park

Information about Nerada Tea – http://www.neradatea.com.au

Gallo Dairyland information – http://gallodairyland.com.au

Information about the Curtain Fig Tree – http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/curtain-fig/

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6 thoughts on “6/2 – Jamie

  1. WOW! Trip of a lifetime! I enjoyed reading your blog Jamie! Made me feel like I was there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We did so much this day! It felt good to help with another revegetation project. With all the traveling we do it’s nice to take a moment to decrease our carbon footprint. It also felt good to know that what we were doing will help create a rainforest corridor for various species, including the tree kangaroo, to travel! It’s great that we can meet people like Simon. He obviously really cares about the environment and wants to encourage more people to be sustainable and to help save the plants and animals we all appreciate.

    Great blog post though Jamie! Just seeing those calf pictures makes me want to go back to Gallo and eat more cheese!

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  3. This day was really a good one! I really appreciated working with TREATS and trying to reduce our carbon footprint and start a good corridor for the different ecosystems. Sometimes it’s hard to realize how the work you are doing now is going to help in the future. A few days later when we visited the Daintree rainforest observatory our speaker showed us a re vegetation center that was 16 years old! It looked like a full growth ecosysten and it started by somebody like us doing what we do. I think it really puts into perspective how an individual or small group of individuals can make a big impact on the environment. Our speaker even mentioned how important the forest corridors were. It was great to see how us being on the ground pulling weeds came full circle to a forest ecosystem. This volunteer basis system is sustainable as well by trying to get new people out there and understand how pulling weeds is a small part of the big picture. I also really liked learning about the chocolate and cheese factory how it was all made right there and it was not only used as a tourism destination but a learning experience about the sustainability of the system.

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  4. My favorite part of the day was the chocolate and cheese factory because I love food so much! Watching the cheese being made was an experience we often don’t have the chance to see in the States. On this study abroad we have focused a lot on eating and buying locally to be more economically and environmentally sustainable. Gallo’s was a great example for the local products movement. The farm also produces their own animal feed which reduces their overall carbon footprint since nothing is being imported, so the farm is more self sustaining. These qualities make the farm more desirable for tourists and other farmers.

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  5. I enjoyed our visit to the Tablelands. Working on a revegitation project was very rewarding especaily when Simon pointed out an established forest that was planted as a TREAT project in previous years. The night canoe trip was a great way to see the nocturnal animals in the queensland eccosystem. On The Wallaby is an excelent lodge, it is most definitly worth staying at if you find yourself in Yungaburra. Paul is also looking into adding solar pannels to the roof of his lodge to make the business more sustainable and lower the carbon footprint of those whos stay there. Yungaburra was a blast.

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  6. Great post Jamie! We really did a lot this day and were able to learn so much. It was very cool to learn about TREAT and all that they do to help the rainforest. Pulling weeds was an extremely interesting experience and it really made me think about how even doing something small can have a huge impact later down the road. Even if it felt like we weren’t doing much by pulling weeds, because of us the trees surrounded by the weeds will have a better chance of surviving and growing into huge trees, which will benefit the environment largely in the long run.

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