Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

5/29 – Dani

Greetings from Down Under my name is Dani and I was the day leader for May 29th. Today was a very busy and exhausting day! We started the day off bright and early (3:30am) as we headed to the airport so we could fly from Sydney to Cairns!


Map from Sydney to Cairns

Map from Sydney to Cairns

Once we arrived in Cairns, Paul, our new tour guide, drove us around and gave us a quick tour of the city. He showed us the Esplanade, which is the busiest part of town. The Lagoon was located over here, which is where we could go swimming on our free day! The main shopping areas were located in this part of the town.

View while traveling from the airport to our accommodations

View while traveling from the airport to our accommodations


The weather in Cairns, which is divided into a ‘wet’ season and a ‘dry’ season, reminds me of Michigan’s seasons, construction season and winter. The average rainfall in Cairns is around 1992mm (79 inches). In May and June the average temperature is about 26.5˚C (80˚F) for the high and 18˚C (65˚F) for the average low. Keep in mind that their winter and summer seasons are opposite of ours so we will be in Australia in the fall/winter. Their winter months are when the city sees the most tourism because the weather is usually the nicest and most comfortable.

Hopefully the weather stays nice for us while we are here!

Our first stop of the day was the Apunipima Health Council

Apunipima  Health Clinic Logo

Apunipima Health Clinic Logo

Apunipima Health Council is a community based Aboriginal Health Organization. It was established in 1994 as a health advocacy organization for the Aboriginal people.

They have six locations in Cape York and provide services to over a dozen communities in the area.

The health council provides services such as outreach midwives, pediatrics, audiologists, physiotherapists, dietitians and nutritionists. They focus heavily on healthy lifestyle living and have teams that focus directly on diabetes care, smoking, eating well and becoming more active.

When we arrived at the clinic the staff greeted us with smiles and sandwiches!

Sandwiches made by the Health Clinic Staff

Sandwiches made by the Health Clinic Staff

Traditional Australian Sausage Rolls

Traditional Australian Sausage Rolls

After a quick bite to eat we learned about the clinic and all the things they have accomplished as well as the goals they have for the future. The clinic focuses heavily on preventative medicine. The members of the clinic work extremely hard to get community members into their clinics for health screenings so they can catch a disease or illness before it is too late. They aim for this because many aboriginal people are not receiving the preventive health care they need. Cleveland told us that with their research they have determined that over 70% of the deaths in their community were preventable.  Their future goals include putting health care under community control and to reform health care and manage funds more carefully. Education on healthy lifestyle choices is something the clinic has a heavy focus on. The clinics’ faculty focus on educating the community on lifestyle changes that would improve their health and life, such as the impacts on smoking and drinking and increasing exercise and eating nutritious healthy food. They wanted to make the community more sustainable by increasing the overall health of the community.

Presentation at the health clinic

Presentation at the health clinic

After the talk with the Health Clinic we stopped for some lunch. We had some time to eat and explore the town a little and check out a few shops. A lot of us picked this little cafe called Calypso Cafe for a light lunch.

Calypso Cafe,. Our lunch location

Our Lunch Spot

Our second stop was at Reef Tech

Reef Teach is “Cairns’s unique education centre for the Great Barrier Reef”. It offers educational services on to visitor that would like to intensify their experience of the Reef. Reef Teach was founded in 1992 by Paddy Colwell, who had an interest in finding out fun ways to learn about the Reef. The program is staffed by highly qualified marine biologist and conservationists. The goal is to teach you how to enjoy your experience of the reef while minimizing the impact you have on it.

Reef Teach Logo

Reef Teach Logo

We were greeted by the amazing staff at Reef Teach when we arrived. They were very enthusiastic and passionate about the Reef. They taught us about the Reef and that it consists of over 2900 smaller reefs and islands. The reefs are made up of two corals, soft or hard. We were also taught about the variety of fish that inhabit the coral, this was extremely useful because we planned on traveling to the reef the next day!

After Reef Teach we were able to head to our accommodations.

Our accommodations while in Cairns

Our accommodations while in Cairns

After putting our belongings in our rooms we headed right to the hotel’s conference room for a talk about the reef with RRRC.

Reef and Rain-forest Logo

Logo for RRRC (

The Reef & Rainforest Research Centre is a non-profit organization that works to help preserve and protect the environment. It was created in 2006 as part of Australia’s Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities program.The main focus is on conservation and sustainable development in the Tropical Queensland area. Results from the research done here is being used by numerous organizations across the country, including the Australian government and natural resource management groups. Current research being done at the Centre include: ways of increasing the sustainability for the tropical environments and the people and industries that are interconnected with them and ways to adapt and reduce the impacts of climate change (which isn’t a contested theory in Australia!) RRRC also works with the local communities to help create sustainable tourism and agricultural practices.

Dr. Julie Carmody led the talk. She is a professor at James Cooke University right down the road and has published a number of books on the reef and ecotourism.  The Great Barrier Reef brings in $5.2 billion to the economy of Australia. It is also a World Heritage site.

Dr.Carmody presenting to our group

Dr.Carmody presenting to the group

We were taught about the reef and the threats of it, including ecotourism. A few of the major threats, besides eco tourism, for the reef include climate change, shipping boats, and COTS. Crown-of thorns starfish  (COTS ) are the largest threat to the reef. They are responsible for over half of the decline of coral on the reef. The RRRC is working on minimizing the loss of coral from COTS and protect key locations on the reef.


Cairns Weather

Apunipima Health Clinic Website

RRRC Website

Reef Teach Website



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