Our journey up the coast of western Australia began on April 27. Laura and I departed at 5:45AM from our flat at Saint Thomas Moore College at UWA, caught a bus to Perth, and headed north with Western Xposure shortly after that. Our first stop was to Nambung National Park to see the Pinnacles. During our tour, we learned that there are two competing hypotheses for the evolution of the Pinnacles. The first hypothesis is that the structures formed in the ocean by calcium deposition. The second hypothesis stated that the Pinnacles are a fossilized forest of prehistoric trees. We also learned that the sand dunes surrounding the Pinnacles have receded and advanced through time, which has influenced the rate of erosion of the Pinnacles significantly. After seeing these rare WA geologic specimens we got a more in depth feel for the sand dunes while sand boarding a bit further up the coast. After shredding the gnar we headed to Kalbarri National Park, our final destination of the day. We watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean, which lives up to its name as the sunset coast, before sharing a lovely dinner and heading to bed early.
We left the Rock Lobster Lodge at 6:30AM sharp to see the rising sun over the outback from an outlook consisting of stratified layers that resembled the Grand Canyon. Thousands of years of erosion of softer rock layers left a jagged coastline of harder rock in this majestic spot. Kalbarri National Park is a unique location because it is where the Murchison River flows into the Indian Ocean. We followed the Murchison River inland observing the incision of the water body through the landscape. We had the opportunity to get an up close and personal view of the rocks and the surrounding rock scape when we abseiled down the canyon edge. Shortly afterwards, we broadened our perspective of the river when we viewed Z bend. The afternoon consisted of visiting shell beach, a beach made entirely of cockleshells able to tolerate high salinity sea water such as is found in Shark Bay. Afterwards, we drove to Monkey Mia stopping to spot wildlife at Eagle’s Bluff. We were lucky enough to spy a dugong grazing on sea grass in the bay!
Day three was another early start, at 5:30AM to watch the sunrise and observe the plethora of wildlife at Monkey Mia. We saw two types of turtles, one green and one loggerhead, a lion fish, squid, and dolphins! The fisherman in Monkey Mia had fed dolphins in the area just after sunrise for decades. Now, Monkey Mia is a well oiled eco-tourism machine. We were impressed with the way volunteers were allowed to feed only the same 5 dolphins every day. The quantity of fish given was limited in order to prevent complete dependence on humans. In the late morning at Monkey Mia we went for a sea-kayak to try to see a few sharks, but were unsuccessful. Still, it was a great day on the water.
We left Monkey Mia in the early afternoon to see the long-awaited stromatolites at Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay. These living fossils are the reason we are able to breathe today. We saw stromatolites dead and alive forming a crusty coast. Stromatolites dominated the world 3.5 bya but now, due to the threat of competition by algae grazers, they are restricted to only hypersaline waters. Shark Bay is one of the best places in the world to see stromatilites. It was a fantastic experience to be in the presence of these ancient organisms for a time. After Hamelin Pool we headed back south to River Sanctuary, a former sheep farm turned eco-tourism accommodation. In staying there we got a rich taste of what life at a rural Australian farm would be like. Much of the history of the farm has been preserved at River Sanctuary, providing for an authentic experience.
On our last day back to Perth we visited Hutt River Province and Prince Lenard, a famous tree deformed by tradewinds, a wildlife trap, and a war memorial for HMAS Sydney II in Geraldton to commemorate the death of 645 Australians. Our four day academic endeavor was unforgettable, it highlighted our subjects of interest during out ISPs in both micro and macro biology. We are grateful have gotten the change to enhance our knowledge of Western Australia and to see a broader range of Australian ecosystems on this wonderful whirlwind of a trip.
Now, we are back in Cairns with only five days left with the group of people who have become a giant family in the past four months. I take morning runs on the esplanade with the waves crashing underneath my feet and the sun rising between the mountains and ocean to have a moment on my own; to soak in all in. Seven days until I step back on to U.S. soil. This of course comes with mixed feelings but I am really looking forward to seeing my family and friends (and a new puppy at home, Chester!). I look forward to going back to F&M with a refreshed mind; ready to observe the ways I have changed this semester.