Far to the north of Melbourne’s laneway cafés and Sydney’s glittering waterfront, you’ll find Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area – 450 kilometres of steamy rainforest canopy, babbling creeks and lush mountain ridges.
It’s an ancient land, once part of a huge forest that covered most of northern Australia. About one third of the continent’s vertebrate species live here, along with 2,000 different types of plants. It’s got the biggest natural diversity of any place in Australia, and it’s where you can go in 2015 with a team of leading environmental scientists to help study the effects of climate change.
How often do you get the chance to venture into the depths of Australia’s most important rainforest and actually help scientists find what’s making it tick? Together with Earthwatch, an international field research organisation, we’ve put together a one-of-a-kind research trip.
Not the kind where members of the team start disappearing one by one after they stumble on a dangerous alien life form, but a research trip where you go off-map, deep into the forest, and help scientists study unique animals, plants and ecosystems before they vanish from the earth.
Basically it’s the closest you’ll get to being a real life Planateer, and while Captain Planet won’t be joining you, here are a few reasons to choose our special Wildlife of Australia’s Rainforests trip over your typical Bali breach break.
1. Incredible natural diversity
It’s hard to quantify just how important the Daintree is to our study of the natural world, but we’ll have a crack anyway. Scientists believe there are 19 primitive flowering plant families on Earth, plants that were there almost from the beginning of life. Twelve of them can be found in the Daintree. In 1970, scientists discovered one flowering species that is thought to be over 120 million years old (they called it the Idiot Fruit – don’t ask us why).
There are 12,000 species of insect in the forest, and 90% of Australia’s butterfly species. There are cassowaries, cockatoos, pythons, rainforest-dragons and frogs so small they’d fit on your thumbnail. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there is a chance (however small) that you could discover something totally unknown to science.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to study what effects climate change is having on these rare and beautiful species. That’s where the science comes in…
2. Vital scientific research
The job of Earthwatch scientists is to go out into the field and examine these species firsthand. And on this trip, you get to join them. You’ll help out with all aspects of fieldwork, putting into practise real scientific techniques. You’ll learn how to take environmental measurements of humidity and temperature, help scientists on bird transects (basically surveys of local bird nests and groups), measure and record reptiles like lizards and skinks, go spotlighting for frogs at night and collect invertebrate samples.
This isn’t a schoolroom science class. We’re talking dawn walks as the forest wakes up around you, spotting chirping nests of black bittern, mangrove robin, lovely fairy-wren and double-eyed fig parrot. Or creeping through the undergrowth at night, searching by torchlight for the glowing eyes of dwarf treefrogs or Australian woodfrogs.
3. Scenery that’s out of this world
The places you’ll go, oh the places you’ll go! Apart from its scientific importance, the Wet Tropics region is simply one of the most beautiful places in Australia, and one most people only glimpse from the plane window. We’ll take you into the wild, to isolated campsites with very few facilities but an abundance of gorgeous scenery. Sleep next to crystal-clear creeks (perfect for a swim after a busy day’s research), and wake up to 260 million year-old mountains or the picturesque forests of the coastal lowlands.
Since you’re in the area, there’s always the chance to check out the Great Barrier Reef or go biking to the famous Crystal Cascades Waterfall. If you’re going to be doing crucial environmental research, you may as well do it somewhere beautiful. And when you’re working alongside scientists beneath trees whose ancestors stood here 200 million years ago, you start to realise: as offices go, this isn’t half bad.
Want to learn more about our connection with Earthwatch or book your place on the research trip of a lifetime? We’ve got all the info you need right here.
Image c/o IK’s World Trip, Flickr