Cairns, Queensland

Application Deadlines: 

This program has a research component, and students complete an independent study project for 5 of the 15 weeks. Preferred experience: previous college coursework and/or other significant preparation in environmental studies, ecology, biology or related fields, as assessed by SIT.

Program Details: 

This program explores the terrestrial and marine ecosystems of far North Queensland and the relationship of traditional and contemporary human cultures with the environment. Students interact with scientists and local experts from organizations such as the Lizard Island Research Stationand the Wet Tropics Management Authority to gain a firsthand understanding of ongoing conservation efforts in an exceptionally diverse environment.

The program's field-based modules allow students to:

Examine the diversity of habitats and environments within the Wet Tropics Bioregion

  • Study coral reef conservation and management issues

  • Experience traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and culture

Excursions to different ecosystems with high biodiversity and landscape values are a major emphasis of the Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology program. Therefore, much of the program's academic delivery takes place outside of Cairns. The program's four field based modules are designed to integrate field observations, lectures, and direct experience with theoretical considerations learned in the classroom and from course readings.Educational Excursions

Aboriginal Worldview

Aboriginal guides, associated with the SIT program for more than 15 years, enthusiastically share with students their diverse knowledge of traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and culture. Students explore the environs around their campsites and investigate how traditional Aboriginal culture viewed and interacted with their environment. Group discussions focus on the practical realities of survival in the Australian environment, and students contemplate how environmental realities affected the development of the world's oldest living culture. Students address contemporary problems facing Aboriginal cultural survival and discuss the means by which Australian society in general, and North Queensland in particular, can reconcile its sometimes violent and tumultuous past, with a future that includes the First Australians.

The Wet Tropics Bioregion: A Landscape Ecology Perspective
The 10 day rainforest module examines the diversity of habitats and environments within the Wet Tropics bioregion. The program adopts a landscape ecology approach to emphasize the development of the region both from an historical and contemporary perspective. Students examine the linkages between geology, geomorphology, climate, human activity, and the ecological systems of the Wet Tropics. Day trips to a variety of sites allow students to examine a range of different structural "types" of rainforests as recognized by scientists. Students are required to develop their observation skills and knowledge of forest physiognomic characteristics in order to categorize the structural features that account for these differences. At each site students are required to place the site within its overall landscape context and relate the larger scale patterns and processes they observe, in order to integrate their understanding of the natural and human communities of the bioregion. Students are expected to become "experts" on local flora and fauna, and throughout this module the identification of organisms and knowledge of the phylogeny, taxonomy, and life history of the biota is emphasized. During this module, students also complete a two day field study in which they develop a research question and methods, and analyze and report their findings to the rest of the group.

Read more about the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

Coral Reefs: Ecology and Conservation
The coral reef ecology and conservation module is delivered primarily during the 10 day excursion to Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef. During this module, students develop an in-depth understanding of the ecological patterns and processes of coral reef ecosystems. Students examine coral reef conservation and management issues from both local and global perspectives. The research station provides six-person boats which are used to survey the diverse fringing reefs surrounding Lizard Island. During morning snorkeling sessions (usually about 3 hours in duration) students learn underwater data collection and fish observation skills, and become proficient in the identification of major coral groups and reef fish families. Students must collect data for a scientific report they write as part of their coursework. During afternoon snorkel sessions (usually about 2.5 hours in duration), students explore various reef habitats around the island, observing how environmental parameters influence reef structure and species composition. On these snorkeling excursions, students often see marine turtles, stingray, octopus, and the occasional moray eel.

When not in the water or at lectures, students may interact with the researchers working at this world-class research facility. Many students in the past have collaborated with researchers at the station on their Independent Study Project.

Check out the SIT website for more information!

Academic Emphasis: 
Bioresource Res.
Environ. Science
General Science
Natural Resources
Program Administrator: 
Program Costs: 
Winter/Spring Semester
Summer/Fall Semester
Host Family