Field Work at the Great Barrier Reef?

That's Stanford in Australia.
By Diana Aguilera
TREE HUGGER: A koala living near the North Stradbroke Island research station in Queensland where Stanford students study (top); Stephanie Sila, ’19, feeds Hobbsy, a pademelon, at Sheoak Ridge Nature Reserve in Far North Queensland in 2017. Hobbsy “would hop through our midday lecture in search of sweet potatoes and stomach scratches,” says Christina Styliani Savvides, ’19. Photos: Stephanie Sila, ’19 (top), Christina Styliani Savvides, ’19
Stephanie Sila, ’19 (right), feeds Hobbsy, a pademelon, at Sheoak Ridge Nature Reserve in Far North Queensland in 2017. Hobbsy “would hop through our midday lecture in search of sweet potatoes and stomach scratches,” says Christina Styliani Savvides, ’19.
MARINE MATH: Micah Silberstein, ’17, and Katie Joseff, ’17, MA ’19, conduct an ecosystem survey near Heron Island during low tide in 2015. Lugging buckets equipped with large magnifying glasses, plus pen and paper, students tabulate the abundance and diversity of species in the reef flat. Photo: Tamara Mekler, ’17, MS ’18

From trudging through rain forests at night to snorkeling over the largest coral reef system in the world, students in the Australian Coastal Studies program swap the classroom for the great outdoors. Every fall, up to 48 students learn about the marine biology and ecology of the region, as well as the history and culture of the 118-year-old nation. Each course is taught in a different location along the northeastern coast of Australia. Students engage in extensive field research, conducting ecosystem surveys off Heron Island, studying wallabies in a nature preserve in Far North Queensland and exploring the geology of caves in the Australian Outback.

“It’s a hands-on learning experience that is backed by lab work and field trips,” says Brian Kim, ’19, an environmental systems engineering major. “We weren’t just studying coral bleaching; we were snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, where we saw the effect of environmental degradation and how that was affecting the coral.”

MARINE MATH: Micah Silberstein, ’17, and Katie Joseff, ’17, MA ’19, conduct an ecosystem survey near Heron Island during low tide in 2015. Lugging buckets equipped with large magnifying glasses, plus pen and paper, students tabulate the abundance and diversity of species in the reef flat. Photo: Tamara Mekler, ’17, MS ’18

Founded in 2003, Stanford in Australia “is the only overseas program in a quarter that allows for this significant outdoor research,” says Adrian Doyle, associate director for student and academic services for the Bing Overseas Studies Program. “Students really get their hands dirty.” At the end of the quarter, students complete research projects on topics ranging from the influence of stingray foraging on invertebrate communities in tidal flats to the efficacy of the mangrove as a shoreline protector.

For Tamara Mekler, ’17, MS ’18, a human biology major, the real treat was spending her birthday inspecting caves and swimming holes at Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park in Far North Queensland. She remembers lying with her friends on an empty road in the Outback and staring at the night sky. They were scouting for meteors. “Twenty shooting stars for my 20th birthday. I still have never seen such a spectacularly lit sky like I did that night.”

FISH SCHOOL: Mekler snorkels over the Great Barrier Reef near Heron Island in 2015. “The highlight of the program in Australia is the opportunity to learn about environmental sciences while being fully immersed in the environment,” Mekler says.Jonathan Fisk, ’16, MS ’17, and other students examine reef samples and collect microscopic animals in 2014.
FISH SCHOOL: Mekler snorkels over the Great Barrier Reef near Heron Island in 2015. “The highlight of the program in Australia is the opportunity to learn about environmental sciences while being fully immersed in the environment,” Mekler says. Jonathan Fisk, ’16, MS ’17, and other students examine reef samples and collect microscopic animals in 2014. Photos: Kayci Lacob, ’17 (left), Amanda Sani, ’16
‘Ever since I left Australia, as an educator I've sought out opportunities for hands-on teaching using the surrounding landscape as the blackboard.’ –Tamara Mekler
FIN FAVORITE: Maria Marta Rey Malca de Habich, ’18, a human biology major, photographs the Great Barrier Reef off Heron Island during her Coral Reef Ecosystems course in 2016. Photo: Maria Marta Rey Malca de Habich, ’18
BRIGHT-EYED: Sila, a biology major, snapped a photo of a rainbow lorikeet after class in Cairns in 2017. Photo: Stephanie Sila, ’19
FIN FAVORITE: Maria Marta Rey Malca de Habich, ’18, a human biology major, photographs the Great Barrier Reef off Heron Island during her Coral Reef Ecosystems course in 2016.BRIGHT-EYED: Sila, a biology major, snapped a photo of a rainbow lorikeet after class in Cairns in 2017.
BRIGHT-EYED: Sila, a biology major, snapped a photo of a rainbow lorikeet after class in Cairns in 2017. Photo: Stephanie Sila, ’19
DEEP THINKING: Students explore a cave in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park in Far North Queensland for their Terrestrial Coastal Forest Ecosystems course in 2016. Photo: Maria Marta Rey Malca de Habich, ’18
THE ULTIMATE SNUGGLE: Neil Nathan, ’19, at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, on the group’s last day in Australia in 2018. Says Nahla Oriane Gedeon Achi, ’19: “By midafternoon, we were drowsy from the heat and lay down for a nap (literally) with a few kangaroos, creating a giant cuddle puddle.” Photo: Nahla Oriane Gedeon Achi, ’19
THE ULTIMATE SNUGGLE: Neil Nathan, ’19, at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, on the group’s last day in Australia in 2018. Says Nahla Oriane Gedeon Achi, ’19: “By midafternoon, we were drowsy from the heat and lay down for a nap (literally) with a few kangaroos, creating a giant cuddle puddle.”
‘Spending time outside—either in the water or on land—was a huge part of the program, and getting to spend our last day in a sanctuary for rescued animals was a perfect culmination to our three months in Australia.’ –Nahla Oriane Gedeon Achi