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Fancy an island classroom?

Published:13 October 2021

Top: CQUni students Eloise Bolton and Ben Martin. Middle: Sarah Wescombe. Bottom: Students, lectures and volunteers

Top: CQUni students Eloise Bolton and Ben Martin. Middle: Sarah Wescombe. Bottom: Students, lectures and volunteers

Where else can you complete a Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science or Education while exploring an island paradise?

CQUniversity students undertaking the Environmental Monitoring unit (ENVR11014) spent five days at Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island (GKI) measuring and observing the plants and animals of the island as part of the Island Classroom partnership with Great Keppel Island Hideaway.

Forty-five students took advantage of the natural wonder of the world – the Great Barrier Reef – where they gained valuable hands-on experience while exploring all that GKI has to offer, including the after-hours activities such as snorkelling and hiking.

By using underwater cameras, students recorded various aquatic species and monitored their behaviour. Meanwhile inland, students completed vegetation monitoring, where they measured trees using tree calipers to calculate their carbon content, and installed pit traps and trail cameras to identify different land animals.

CQUniversity Senior Lecture of Environmental Ecology Dr Nathan Brooks-English said with today’s technology it’s possible to move away from impactful trapping of animals that can cause stress, injuries and sometimes fatalities.

“We are moving towards more non-invasive monitoring here at CQU,” Dr Brooks-English said.

“We use remote underwater cameras instead of gillnetting to monitor aquatic species. Gillnetting can cause a lot of disruption and sometimes those fish die before you can return them to the ocean.”

Students are broken into smaller groups for personalised, hands-on training with two CQUni lecturers and a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Ranger who volunteers her time.

First year Bachelor of Environmental Science distance student Sarah Wescombe travelled more than 1000 kilometres to participate in the practical part of her studies.

As a Cairns local working as a dental assistant, her search for a new career path led Ms Wescombe to attend a CQUni Open Day in Cairns, where Dr Brooks-English's explanation of the Bachelor of Environmental Science won her over.

“As a dental assistant, it made sense to pursue a career in health,” Ms Wescombe said.

“But after speaking with Dr Brooks-English about the Bachelor of Environmental Science, it sparked my interest and I enrolled later that week.

“I find the work really interesting. A lot of the students want to study the animals, which I do too, but I find the vegetation research and discovering the history of Australia quite fascinating.

“Being a distance student, it was important that my studies fit around my lifestyle. This course does just that and I get to see amazing places like Great Keppel Island.”

Dr Brooks-English said a lot of the students are distance students from Mount Isa, Brisbane and Cairns and the practical components of their studies helps them connect with their peers.

“Not only do the field trips associated with the units we deliver provide students with the opportunity to meet their peers, socialise and get a taste of the university experience, but they also take home the knowledge that comes from their hands-on experience,” Dr Brooks-English said.

“When they apply for jobs, instead of saying ‘I can do this’, they can say ‘I have done this’ and that’s a really powerful tool.”

The partnership between CQUni and GKI Hideaway not only builds students’ knowledge about the natural history of the island, but it also helps boost the tourism industry and highlights the fantastic resources and cultural history located in Central Queensland.