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STEM Tour

Contributing to scientific understanding of Australian coral reefs.

Over the Term 3 holidays, 20 students from Year 10 and 11 were lucky enough to have the amazing opportunity to be the first school group to travel to the research facility of One Tree Island, 100 kilometres off the Queensland border.

Accompanied by the Director of STEM, Dr Thompson and Science teacher, Ms Quinn, their purpose was to immerse themselves in diverse fields of scientific research to understand our ever-changing coral reefs and their relevance to everyday life.

“We were amazed by the isolation of the area and in awe of the beauty of the nature around us. Since the research facility was established in 1965, the island has never been open for tourism. This has resulted in minimal human impact on the coral and its surroundings. We were able to consider the greater human-induced effects on our reefs such as bleaching due to global warming,” Ella (Year 11) said.

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Joining them for the trip were Sydney University scientists Professor Jody Webster, Associate Professor Ana Vila Concejo, Professor Helen McGregor and PhD student Lachlan Perris, who inspired with their passion for their fields including marine geology, coastal geophysics and geochemistry.

Each morning, the students snorkelled around the island in perfect weather conditions adventuring through the reef’s varying structures, often receiving the chance to see up close the features they had learned about at a lecture from the research experts the night before.

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Then, they would set out to work. Each day presented a new data-collection task, which they quickly learned is the bread and butter of scientific work. They split into groups with different researchers to assist them with their process. For some students this meant taking transect lines across the forereef and using quadrants to determine the composition of the coral in different areas; for others, it meant working with a drone and satellite points to pinpoint GPS coordinates across the reef that had been established by previous researchers. “We would also spend some of our afternoons in the dry lab, applying our data into Excel spreadsheets and learning how to correctly collate our findings.”

The nightly lecture-style lessons were led by the researchers such as PhD student Lachlan who shared about the spur and groove structures of the reef and the way they absorb the force from the waves and protect the island. “He explained to us that it was vital to understand these structures as around 200 million people live along coastlines less than five metres to the water and therefore, as climate change continues, they may be susceptible to coastal erosion," Ella said.

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“We will cherish the memories we made, the knowledge we gained and the appreciation we gathered in the importance of the continuation of research into the reef and how we can further protect it,” said Georgina (Year 11) and Mali (Year 11).