The first half of 2019 I spend in Australia, I was here for an internship that I did for my bachelor in Tropical Forestry. I did my internship in Uganda first but decided to stop it. I will tell you more about that later. For this internship, I stayed in Cairns, Queensland for four months and in that time I was working for Cairns And Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC). Besides this internship, I had enough time to discover Cairns and its surroundings. I spend many hours in the big park next to the office walking through the tropical forest. I also went on a waterfall trip. Atherton Tablelands, the area west from Cairns is famous for its many waterfalls, they are beautiful but also so cold! And I spend many days on the Great Barrier Reef, which was an absolute dream.
Internship at CAFNEC
So, as I mentioned I was working for CAFNEC for 4 months. CAFNEC is a regional non-government environmental organisation for Far North Queensland. They have advocated for the protection of the region’s unique nature since 1981. With the mission, to bring together the broad-based community and other organisations to take action to promote a vibrant Far North Queensland natural environment. Located in Cairns, where the reef meets the rainforest. Far North Queensland has two of Australia’s most iconic World Heritage Areas; the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. CAFNEC works in four key areas: campaigns, projects, training and connecting others.
During my time at CAFNEC, I mostly helped behind the scenes, as I am not always comfortable with going out and speaking up. For example, when I was there the elections were coming up. And to try and convince people it is important to vote for the party that will benefit nature, they went door knocking. They just went by every door and tried to talk to as many people as possible. This is of course a great way to reach many different people, but as I do not have any knowledge about how the Australian government works, I did not feel comfortable doing this.
What I did in those months
Luckily there were many many other tasks I could help them with. I really enjoyed helping them with the transition of their membership data into a new system, I made content about several of the projects they have. Such as the Drain Stencil project, where they take young children into the streets and spraypaint stencil by the drains on the street. To create awareness that what goes into those drains, will end up as pollution in the great barrier reef.
And one of the bigger campaigns we were working at that time was about the spectacled flying foxes, there is a big colony of them in the middle of the city. It is a very impressive sighting, hundreds of flying foxes hanging upside down in the big trees. But many of the citizens, and the government, want them gone. As they poop on the streets and make noise. But the removal of the animals would be extremely stressful for them and no guarantee for success either. Unfortunately, this problem is still ongoing.
As a part of my internship, I also spend 2,5 weeks up in the Atherton Tablelands. My university required me to do research as part of the internship and I could do this on the property of one of the colleagues from CAFNEC. I felt so lucky I got to stay there, their property is off the grid and bordering a big nature reserve. They are restoring their own property back to rainforest as big parts had been cleared for cattle farming before they had bought it. As the Atherton Tablelands is largely covered by tropical rainforest, it rained a lot. Many times when we were returning from the fieldwork, we were just too late to miss the massive afternoon shower. But to be honest, I did not mind… for me it is part of the charm for the rainforest.
Besides the research, I also helped them with the reforestation that they were doing. In the time I was there, there was a big planting day organised and about 2000 seedlings were going to be planted. As you can imagine, a lot of preparation to be done. During the day it was often burning hot under the sun, temperatures rising up to 35 degrees. While we were bent over to prepare the soil or collecting data. But after these warm days, we often took a nice dive in the pond, located on the property. If we were lucky, we were swimming alongside a platypus. Unfortunately, these animals are really shy so I haven’t seen much more than a glimpse from it.
Research on plant survival
As mentioned, I was staying in the Atherton Tablelands to do my research. For this research, I was looking at the success of previous revegetation. They had both planted seedlings and seeds. And for me the tasks to see what and how much survived, to find out which method was the most efficient and successful. This mostly included going out into the field and counting all the plants that were planted or generated from the seeds. Overall I counted more than 6.000 plants! Luckily this also got rewarded with some swimming trips, either in the pond or at the waterfall… what a dream to be living on this property.
My previous internship in Uganda
As mentioned in the beginning, I first went on an internship to Uganda but decided to stop this after one month. A decision that was not made in one night. One year earlier, in February 2018 I flew to Uganda, very motivated. I was going to stay in Kabeli National Park for 5 months and do research on the monkeys, comparing the replanted and the primary rainforest. It felt like a dream coming true and I was so excited. But unfortunately, plans never go as you wanted them.
I knew I would be in a remote location, located in the forest. But I was not prepared for what really happened. Not only was it remote, but I was also completely isolated. There were 3 other staff members, but unfortunately, I would only see them for about 3-4 hours in the morning. The rest of the day I was on my home, not being able to get more than 100 meters from the house. Also, there was no electricity or internet available. If it was either isolated or either electricity I would have told myself to get myself together and stay. But after talking to my friends, family and school we decided that it would be better to stop this placement.
Of course, not everybody agreed with my decision and told me to continue or I would regret it. But up until today, I am very happy with the decision to go home and try again. It learned me a lot about myself. Nobody likes to give up, cause that was how I felt. But as long as you tried there is no reason to be ashamed of it. Before I flew home I took the change to travel a bit and see what a beautiful country I was in. I went to different national parks to see African wildlife. I have seen the big five and the absolute highlight was seeing the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.