Introduction by Kate Hayward, LIRRF Chair
Back in 2019, the LIRRF undertook to support and fund an inaugural 9-night educational program at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station for a select group of Year 11 NSW government school biology students and teachers. The trip was originally scheduled for Easter 2020 but was postponed several times due to COVID. It finally took place over Easter 2022. Of the original 18 selected to take part, 13 students and two teachers were able to make the trip. The study tour was funded by three generous donors – the James N. Kirby Foundation, the Corella Fund and the Coles Danziger Foundation. Each student also contributed a small amount from funds raised from within their local communities. The LIRRF hopes the success of this pilot trip paves the way for an ongoing annual program, the aim of which is to inspire and educate our next generation of marine scientists so that Australia’s leadership in coral reef research continues into the future.
Video highlights of the study tour by Andy Lewis
More video links at the bottom of this page.
An account of the 2022 Study Tour by teacher participants Melissa Berry and Sam Philp with input from the students
During our study tour, we were privileged to participate in an array of unique experiences that you could not find anywhere else in Australia, or even the world. We spent hours snorkelling at 15 locations around Lizard Island, including the fan favourites: Clam Gardens, Mermaid Cove, the mangroves and North Point. We were all captivated by the beauty of the reef and the extent of coral recovery after the impacts of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish outbreak, tropical cyclones and coral bleaching. Confidence quickly grew as the number, and length, of duck dives increased.
After completion of each snorkel, program leaders Dr Andy Lewis and Dr Cristiana Damiano led engaging scientific lectures throughout the trip. Topics included the identification of coral and fish species, reef fish reproduction, coral larval biology and settlement, and expansion upon the complex interactions between organisms of the reef. This format allowed our knowledge to be consolidated as connections were made between the practical and theory components of each snorkel. We were able to observe and compare the differences in the structure, biodiversity and ecosystem recovery at each snorkel site. We tapped into the wealth of Dr. Lewis’ knowledge again, and again… and again…as we had ample opportunities to ask questions that enhanced our understanding of the coral reef. Dr. Lewis succeeded in this mammoth task! Dr. Lewis complemented his verbal information with his vast scientifically classified and professionally catalogued visual library. Students were shown images and videos of sites visited in previous years, which provided a timeline of coral disturbance events and subsequent recoveries.
Dr. Cristiana Damiano also delivered specialty lectures on sharks and turtle species of the world, which the participants thoroughly engaged in and asked thought-provoking questions. We covered reproductive cycles, life cycles, anatomical structures, and physiology of these amazing creatures.
Additionally, students attended lectures from international researchers from the University of Hawaii and University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, and were presented with overviews of the scopes of their research, as well as the opportunity to ask questions to individual researchers about their work.
One of the biggest scientific tasks was to survey Watson’s Wall reef, which covered an area of 66 m by 400 m. Using transects, we surveyed several variables, including coral cover, fish abundance and rugosity of the reef. We used waterproof paper on slates to record observations and data during the snorkel. The information was collated and analysed in the laboratory, which determined the characteristics of the zonation within the reef. We determined that the outer reef had the greatest rugosity, which provided optimal conditions for coral growth and positively impacted the fish abundance.
Another skill developed was drawing scientific diagrams of specimens in-situ. Currents moving the paper on the slate, fish swimming away from observers and general skills at drawing diagrams were all overcome as major fish and coral species were drawn. The amazing resources in the Lizard Island library were utilised to identify fish and corals to the genus and species level.
The acquisition of these skills allowed us to develop from mere tourists to scientists observing interactions on the reef which go unnoticed to sightseers. We now look at the reef ecosystem from a holistic perspective and see how each organism interacts with others. We have the skills to recognise and identify how different organisms utilise the reef as a place of shelter, as a food source, as a hunting ground or as an algae farm.
Following the footsteps of Captain Cook, we hiked to the highest point of Lizard Island, appropriately named Cook’s Look. It was, by far, the best way to view the extent of the reef. Students could see the ribbon reefs in the distance which allowed them to gain a perspective for the sheer scale of the reef. Students and teachers used the opportunity to identify snorkelling locations around Lizard Island they had visited throughout the previous week and compared their observations made in the water to aerial observations of the reefs.
We would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Lizard Island Group. We pay respect to the Dingaal People and Ngurrumungu People for sharing Jiigurru with us for the duration of the LICRST.
Without the determination of Dr. Anne Hoggett, the LICRST would not have been possible. We will be forever grateful for your hard work in gaining sponsors, organising the selection process for candidates and the study program. It needs to be acknowledged that Anne persisted with this pilot program for two years throughout the COVID pandemic to ensure the original selected participants could complete this tour. From all students and teachers, we are eternally grateful for your hard work and persistence to make your vision a reality. We hope that our pilot group becomes the inaugural LICRST group.
To Dr. Andy Lewis and Dr. Cristiana Damiano. We could spend hours thanking you for sharing your knowledge, skills and experience. Your support, both professionally and personally, for each and every one of us, has made the LICRST special, beyond comparison. To see how much we have appreciated your time and effort, please read below…
Thank you to all sponsors who made LICRST possible. In particular, we would like to thank the Lizard Reef Research Foundation and the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station for their involvement and support to make this study tour a success. We would also like to thank Dr. Lyle Vail, Ruth Carr and Arthur Davie, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running for the duration of the tour.
Personal reflections by the participants
“This has been the most astonishing trip I have ever been on! I am in love with the reef! My biggest highlight would be swimming with a green sea turtle. I also loved discovering how each reef has been affected differently. The people on the trip are amazing and intelligent, and I am so grateful to Dr Lewis for teaching us so much about marine biology. I am also grateful to Dr. Hoggett for making this trip possible. THANK YOU!” – Taleah Anderson
“Not everyone gets this amazing opportunity to come to the most remarkable place on Earth, and for us to be picked is phenomenal. Everything about this trip was eye opening, but the one thing I found most motivating was Dr. Damiano and Dr. Lewis. The dedication and knowledge they have is mind blowing. The Great Barrier Reef must be experienced first-hand, and with these two passing just a page of knowledge has helped me understand my part in conserving the Great Barrier Reef in the years to follow. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity, and I now know how important it is to protect our reefs. It is truly life changing! This trip has given me a kickstart in pursuing a future in the marine industry.” – Jonah Colburn
“The LICRST has been a profound opportunity for the selected students and teachers. The trip has offered insight and has also reignited my interest into the world of marine science. Students participated in lectures run by Dr. Lewis and Dr. Damiano, allowing us to gain a greater knowledge about coral, fish, sharks, and turtles. This has strengthened my interests and understanding of the reef. Personally, this trip has reminded me about the important things in life and has given me the courage to make life-long decisions that will have a positive impact on my life and the environment.” – Jayde Cookson
“Coral reefs are much more complex than I had ever imagined. The evidence and the extent of damage to the reefs has awakened by awareness to the vulnerability of the marine environment. I have now realised that these environments have an incredible ability to recover, and I am intrigued about the recovery processes. I have loved discovering and learning about the organisms that inhabit the reef and how they interact and rely upon each other. My favourite experiences have been snorkelling, identifying differences between reefs, and free diving with my favourite animals: sharks! Meeting the marine scientists on the island provided me with an insight into their work and the importance of research in preserving the marine ecosystem. It has been amazing meeting people with the same interests and passion for marine life. I have made incredible friends and will forever be grateful for this amazing opportunity, which has influenced my perspective on protection and conservation of the marine environment.” – Zoe Cooper
“Nothing could have prepared me for the LICRST. There was so much to learn and so so so much more to discover. I particularly enjoyed learning about the complexity of the reef, the species that call it their home, and then using skills developed to correctly identify them in the water. It was also exciting to see new parts of the reef each day, and to talk to the international researchers studying the complex relationships in the reef. To me, the most special part was seeing the beautiful coral recovery, especially when a lot of the media around the Great Barrier Reef was so discouraging relating to the destruction caused by cyclones, bleaching and crown of thorns starfish outbreaks. This trip has been really uplifting and has provided me with a strong support group and endless inspiration. I really enjoyed falling in love with the ocean and marine biology. I’m so excited to continue in this area of research and further my studies at university, and maybe, hopefully, even come back to Lizard Island one day! The past 9 days were absolutely magnificent, and I’m now blessed with lifelong friends and unforgettable memories. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, especially under the guidance of Dr. Lewis and Dr. Damiano. Thanks to everyone who made it possible!” – Lea Hartley
“The coolest experiences I had on this trip were the encounters with wildlife. Two such interactions come to mind, the shovel nose ray and the cuttlefish. The shovel nose ray was observed by the mangroves; he was so gentle and calm, such an amazing creature. The cuttlefish was very friendly and was curious as to what I was and what I was doing. Two skills I learned was how to use a writing slate underwater and how to identify reef fish species. I would like to say thank you to the sponsors for funding this trip and allowing us to have this experience.” – Elizabeth Leitch
“The LICRST has provided me with the extremely valuable insight into the world of tropical marine biology. I have always loved the oceans and I am currently studying marine biology at University of Tasmania, but previous to this trip I have never experienced tropical marine ecosystems. I started the trip with one wish: to see a shark. My wish was granted on the last day of the tour. Seeing a black tip reef shark for the first time was lifechanging, bringing tears to my eyes as I watched it swim gracefully beneath me. Coming on this trip has sparked a new interest in tropical marine ecosystems and ecology which will stick with me forever. I am now considering completing my PhD at JCU.” – Alannah Mannix
“Being a part of the LICRST has imprinted upon my mind on how I apply myself to not only science but also on my outward perspective on life. As a first-year university student majoring in Neuroscience, and Genetics and Genomics, I have grown a familiarity in investigating human behaviour from a physiological perspective. Receiving in-depth information about sharks’ cognitive and sensory abilities, has made me reflect on how humanistic we can be. Being surrounded by fish who coordinate their movements using peripheral senses has left me in awe; especially the black tip sharks hearing me from approximately 1.6 km away. In the future, I hope to apply a deeper connection between us homo sapiens and the surrounding marine life, as we could utilise their genetic “superpowers” for the greater good. In the meantime, absorbing the beauty in the complexity of the Earth has inspired me to explore the world in all its detail. I am filled with gratitude, which I can attribute this to the impact of the LICRST.” – Ellesha Noble
“Prior to this trip, I thought that the majority of the Great Barrier Reef was dead due to what I had read in various articles. Surprisingly though, while snorkelling, I found that lively spots of brown, blue and pink coral still paint the ocean floor. This, alongside the enlightening lectures given by Dr. Lewis and Dr. Damiano, has been a far more powerful fuel that drives me to continue my advocacy for reef conservation and restoration. The most inspirational lecture I have listened to was on the Coral Reef Foundation’s Sea Women of Melanesia project. The phenomenal efforts of these courageous women to protect the biodiversity of Papua New Guinea’s reefs is inspirational. It truly propels me to devote more effort into future reef education and preservation efforts.” – Vivian Phan
“The greatest and most valuable message I have learned from this trip was that there is an undeniable hope for the healthy continuance of the reef. Before my time on Lizard Island, I had the perception that the Great Barrier Reef was in a critical condition that was unable to be saved. Through Dr Lewis’ enlightening lectures, I was able to see that the coral reefs can naturally recover from certain natural threats and human impacts. Interacting with the reef first-hand has undoubtedly strengthened my passion for marine biology, alongside listening to stories from fellow students and teachers about volunteer groups and various ways to become involved in the conservation of the reef. Meeting such a range of individuals with unique experiences, interests and expertise has been priceless for my personal growth and plans for future study and careers. This experience has been invaluable, and I cannot thank Dr. Lewis and Dr. Damiano, Anne and Lyle, and all of the donors to the Lizard Island Research Foundation enough for this opportunity and beautiful research environment.” – Hannelore Pusenjak
“The LICRST provided the opportunity to engage in insightful and eye-opening research which provoked my scientific and critical thinking. The practical and theoretical education students were exposed to set the foundation of an extensive knowledge and understanding which can be applied across all scientific disciplines. The pristine marine environment encapsulated the essential need for scientific research for the conservation of the Earth’s marine ecosystems. Personally, the vast array of biodiversity around Lizard Island introduced me to the complexity and innovation required within science. I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to partake in world-class snorkelling, where we engaged in practical fieldwork and identified beautiful marine life. The targeted educational programs run by knowledgeable lecturers, supplemented by other leading researchers within the marine biology field, created a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Riley Shoobert
“Our stay on Lizard Island has opened my eyes to the beautiful complexity of the reef systems, and the incredible resilience and flexibility of the coral reef ecosystem. Over nine days, experiencing all the island has to offer, what stood out to me most was the shocking contrast between the photographic evidence of bleached and destroyed reefs just 5-6 years ago, to the diverse, thriving coral gardens I have seen with my own eyes. Recovery now nearing 100% coral cover in some places, such as sections of North Reef and Clam Gardens, has highlighted the importance of maintaining hope in the face of increasingly heartbreaking media coverage. Despite struggling in the face of increasingly challenging conditions, the reefs of Lizard Island are far from dead and as beautiful in places as I could possibly imagine. Many thanks to Dr. Lewis, Dr. Damiano, Anne and Lyle, and to all who made this experience possible. With new lifelong friendships, knowledge, and refreshed inspiration for marine science and conservation, I leave the island full of gratitude and with a heart full of hope. Many thanks.” – Minka Waratah
“I applied for LICRST to gain the skills and information needed to teach Coral Reef Ecology to my senior Marine Studies students at school. I am proud to say that I have acquired the knowledge and experiences necessary to achieve my goal. I have an understanding about the structure of reefs, how to measure variables in-situ, and how to lead student groups safely during snorkelling expeditions. Furthermore, I have been able to engage in professional dialogue with the international research scientists, which has rekindled my love of learning. This experience has been a game changer for my professional development and personal growth. Thank you so much for this opportunity, I will be forever grateful.” – Melissa Berry (teacher)
“As a teacher of Marine Science, Biology and junior Science, I jumped at the opportunity when the LICRST was announced. As I have always had a strong interest in marine ecosystems, I saw images of Lizard Island as the pinnacle for coral reef ecology and scientific study; a place I had to visit and experience. The explosions of colour and life on a thriving coral reef is a sight to behold. During this tour, I have not only acquired a vast array of knowledge on coral reef ecosystems, but I can use and apply the content to all facets of my teaching. Additionally, I have further developed practical skills in the field and have already begun to implement these into my teaching programs. This experience has changed me as a teacher. It has lit a spark under me that now, more than ever, I will continue to use to inspire and engage the next generation. Hopefully, they will understand the incredible importance of saving our Great Barrier Reef and work hard to ensure that it will be around for many years to come. Dr. Andy Lewis and Dr. Cristiana Damiano were outstanding leaders for the LICRST and I could not have imagined two more perfect professionals for the job. To everyone involved in the organisation of the LICRST, especially Dr. Anne Hoggett, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. I can comfortably say that I will remember this for the rest of my life.” – Sam Philp (teacher)
A four-part video log by teacher Sam Philp