Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

6/5 – Morgan

After departing Cape Tribulation, we started our day out with a stop at the Mount Alexandra Lookout.

View from Mount Alexandra lookout.

View from Mount Alexandra lookout.

From this look out you can see Cape Kimberly, the Mount Alexandra foothills, Snapper Island, the Low Isles, the Daintree River, and Port Douglas. Out into the sea is the Great Barrier Reef, which is vital to the survival of the rainforest, just as the rainforest is important to the reef. The Great Barrier Reef acts as a shield for the rainforest by slowing the waves, this also allows for the formation of mangroves. The reef also generates clouds and warm air which travel to the forest and come down as rain. The rainforest and mangroves help the Great Barrier Reef by providing many nutrients and filtering out the large particles from runoff. Without this filtration system the reef would be covered with silt and sticks and not be able to survive. From the Mount Alexandra Lookout, it was amazing to see how close all of these ecosystems are and how they all work together to survive.

The group at the Mount Alexandra Lookout.

The group at the Mount Alexandra Lookout.

Our next stop of the day was to Hook A Barra. Hook A Barra is the recreational side of the Daintree Saltwater Barramundi Fish Farms, which has been producing farmed Barramundi for over ten years now. We got to speak with the farm manager, Mark Hober, about the process of raising fish. He explained that at his farm he purchases fingerlings (baby fish)in batches of 5,000 to 10,000. They let those fingerlings grow in covered raceways until they are about 120 grams, at which point they are moved into open ponds to finish growing. Once the fish reach between 2 to 4 kilograms they are harvested using a crowd mesh net, which is important because it is soft on the fish so they don’t get injured. After harvesting, the barramundi are sent to various cities such as Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.

The ponds for the maturing Barramundi fish.

The ponds for the maturing Barramundi fish.

According to Mark, the most important factor when producing farmed fish is the water quality. Hook A Barra utilizes aerators and algae blooms to create oxygen for the fish. They also monitor the salinity, pH, and various chemical levels of the ponds multiple times a day to ensure the barramundi have a habitat that is as close to what they would have in the wild as possible.

While at Hook A Barra, people also have the chance to fish in a pond filled with over 1,500 Barramundi and Mangrove Jack. This recreational fishing site is a great demonstration of Australia’s sustainability and attempt to preserve their natural wildlife. While fishing, tourists are educated on farmed fish, the importance of preserving fish in the wild, and the health benefits of eating barramundi.

Mark teaching us about the process of raising farmed Barramundi while observing some Barramundi in one of th aquaculture tanks

Mark teaching us about the process of raising farmed Barramundi while observing some Barramundi in one of th aquaculture tanks

Our second stop of the day was The Botanical Ark.

The group at the Botanical Ark in front of their restored pond which has brought back native wildlife.

The group at the Botanical Ark in front of their restored pond which has brought back native wildlife.

The Botanical Ark started over 24 years ago by Alan and Suzie as a residence, and since about 1990 has been a private ethno-botanical garden.When Alan and Suzie acquired the land it was a cattle farm, and over the years through planting trees and irrigation they transformed pastures to rainforest.

In their first two years, they imported 25 types of fruits and nuts from South East Asia and in the third year they brought 80 new species of fruit and nuts from various rain forests in the Amazon region. Through their travels to more than 100 countries they have introduced over 500 species of fruits and nuts into Australia. In addition to introducing all of these fruits and nuts, Alan and Suzie also introduced many species of tropics flowers to Australia and are responsible for the start of the tropical flower industry in Australia. After all of their hard work bringing these plants to Australia, they joined the Botanical Gardens International in 1991 and began welcoming tourists to their home.

After that history lesson, we were welcomed into their home to try various tropical fruits such as supote, duku, rambutan, dragon fruit, and purple mango stem.

Top to bottom: supote, rambutan, duku, dragon fruit

Top to bottom: supote, rambutan, duku, dragon fruit

My favorite thing that we tried was bread fruit. In addition to be delicious, this fruit grows on a tree that can feed an entire family for one year.

The bread fruit tree.

The bread fruit tree.

After sampling all of those delicious fruits, Alan took us on a walk through their property which is split into three sections to represent different types of rainforest: Asian, African, and American. On this walk we learned about many different plants found in the rain forests and their uses:

Turmeric is a type of ginger which can be used as a dye, an anti-inflammatory, and according to the USDA it is the number one plant for treating 8 types of cancer.

Turmeric Ginger Plant

Turmeric Ginger Plant

The Miracle fruit is a small fruit that, when you eat the skin and flesh, coats your taste buds so that any food that is acidic or sour will instead taste sweet and sugary!

The Miracle Fruit

The Miracle Fruit

The Kepel Apple is a fruit naturally found in Sumatra. When you eat a large amount of this plant, the next day your sweat will smell good!

Alan teaching us about the Kepel Apple.

Alan teaching us about the Kepel Apple.

Bixa is a plant that produces a bright orange color when smashed up. It is used in cosmetics, dye for cheese, cookies, and fed to flamingos to keep flamingos pink!

Here you can see the bright orange color that the Bixa plant produces.

Here you can see the bright orange color that the Bixa plant produces.

After our tour of the land Alan talked with us about the importance of preserving the environment. He said there are four main aspects of a good environment conservation strategy: green plants, animals, indigenous people, and us. It is important that we use all of these factors when trying to conserve any environment and it is equally important that we understand the environment we are trying to protect. To understand we need to observe the world around us. I challenge you to be curious and observe nature; next time you see a bird or butterfly take some time to watch it and learn about how it lives so that you can better understand the environment you’re in!

Our last stop for the day will be to the Mossman Gorge.

The Mossman Gorge, along the river with Rodney.

The Mossman Gorge, along the river with Rodney.

Mossman Gorge is in the Daintree National Park. When we arrived we were warmly greeted by Rodney and Tom, who are both descendants of Northern Queensland indigenous people. Before beginning our walk we all took part in a smoking ceremony. For this a fire was started and Melakula tree paper bark was used to create a large amount of smoke and then we walked in a circle, while rotating, around the fire to immerse ourselves in the smoke. This ceremony is used to take away bad spirits and to make us all smell the same so that we may feel closer to each other.

Tom explaining and starting the smoking ceremony.

Tom explaining and starting the smoking ceremony.

After the smoking ceremony we began our walk into the Daintree Rainforest. To the indigenous people the rainforest is seen as home or a god and they each have a totem (animal or plant) from the forest which is said to protect them.
In the rainforest there are over 30,000 species of plants and animals, and over thousands of years through trial and error the indigenous people have discovered many uses for them.

There are many large Red Cedar trees in the forest, which are traditionally used to make boomerangs, shields, and drums.

The buttress of a Red Cedar tree and an example of a shield that would be made.

The buttress of a Red Cedar tree and an example of a shield that would be made.

The boulders that are found in the Daintree Rainforest are said to be from glaciers during the last ice age. indigenous people used these boulders to communicate through drawings and to create artwork.

One thing Rodney and Tom warned is to stay away from in the forest was the Stinging Tree or “Gimpy Gimpy.” This tree has a ton on tiny hairs on its leaves that will stick in your skin when you touch it and then will break open and cause a stinging/burning sensation for many weeks. The indigenous people had natural ways to treat the stinging trees effects like to use clay, sand, or mud on the area, let it dry out, and then peel it off and hope that the hairs come out too.

A small Gimpy Gimpy (stinging tree).

A small Gimpy Gimpy (stinging tree).

Rocks were used for many different purposes and men and women had different tools because they had different jobs. Men would go out and hunt and women would gather nuts and fruit and grind them up. Rocks were used to help crack open nuts and to grind food down into a powder.

Rocks which were used by women to grind nuts.

Rocks which were used by women to grind nuts.

Sarsaparilla is a versatile plant that was used by the indigenous. Its stem is used as a medicine to treat bug bites and arthritis. Its leaves can be mashed up with some water to create soap and shampoo!

Rodney making soap from Sarsaparilla.

Rodney making soap from Sarsaparilla.

One of the most special things we were taught was about the painting. indigenous people would use paint made from various stones to paint their bodies. When you are painted it is a way to connect to the Earth and is a sign that you have been accepted into the community as family. Dots are only painted onto women, while lines are only used for men and the white paint can only be used by an elder. An elder does not mean old in indigenous culture, but wise and they will use the white paint on someone when they deserve honor and have proven them self to the community. It was a great honor and experience to be painted by Rodney and to be accepted into their culture.

Jackie receiving face paint dots.

Jackie receiving face paint dots.

Leon getting stripe face paint.

Leon getting stripe face paint.

We finished our Dreamtime walk with some traditional dampers, which is similar to corn bread, and tea.
The most important lesson that Rodney and Tom relayed to us is to be proud of your culture and where you come from. We all have something wonderful to contribute to the world and we need to embrace each others differences!

Today was full of many great lessons. Hook A Barra showed us how a new industry can emerge to meet the demand of a product, like how farmed fish has risen in the pay decade to meet the rising demand of fish due to the inclination to healthy lifestyles. At the Botanical Ark, Alan and Suzie taught us how important it is to create a sustainable environment so that we can protect the plants, animals, and thousands of different products that we use that come from the rainforest. Lastly, at the Mossman Gorge Rodney and Tom showed us how having diverse cultures is vital to create a sustainable social system because we all have different ideas to offer.

Hook-A-Barra’s website: http://www.hookabarra.com

Australian Barramundi Farmers Association (information on farming barramundi in Australia): http://www.abfa.org.au

The Botanical Ark’s Website: http://www.botanicalark.com/home.11.0.html

More information on Australia’s Rainforest plants: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/education/Resources/rainforests/Australian_Rainforests/Humans_and_rainforests

Mossman Gorge’s Website: mossmangorge.com.au/

Information on Australian Indiginous culture: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-indigenous-cultural-heritage

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