Australia. Famous for its backwards-spinning drains, boxing kangaroos, deadly everything, and lost or forgetful fish, the nation/continent has so much more to it. Although I’ve come here to study a particular aspect of a specific animal, I don’t intend to waste the opportunity to learn whatever else I can about the place. So, I’ve done a bit of exploring.
The program that got me here is the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI). There are 25 of us Fellows in Australia at the moment, and many of us met each other a couple months ago while at an orientation in Washington, DC. We decided we got along pretty well, so a few of us planned a short pre-EAPSI trip to Sydney together for some sightseeing. What did we learn there? A sample:
A couple more things: Australians call crosswalks ‘zebra crossings’, which initially confused me by conjuring images of striped equines roaming the city and stepping in front of cars. Also, we’re doing cappuccinos wrong in the States. A morning run through the beautiful neighborhood of Pyrmont led me to a small Italian café where I discovered heaven in a coffee mug. I can’t tell you exactly what the difference was, but someone needs to figure it out. Seriously.
Of course, as a group of researchers, we couldn’t help but get our nerd on a couple of times. Most of us work with the ocean, so we spent a good deal of time at the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium and smaller Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. Both were great, and had me itching to get out onto the reef itself! They also clued us in to one of Australia’s most controversial environmental issues: shark culling. That is, the program by which the Australian government kills threatened animals that are vital to the ecosystem in order to reduce people’s fear of going to the beach. I could gibber about this for a while, especially as this policy is part of a broader trend against environmentalism in Australia, but for now I’ll just state a couple of facts. Shark culling is bad for the environment, and bad for the economy. Further, it isn’t even effective at reducing shark attacks. Scientists from around the world have been saying this for years, but the issue is driven by emotion and politics, not research. The aquariums in Sydney are trying to do their part to let people know just how important sharks are – if you want to learn more, don’t just listen to a coral biologist; ask the experts. That link’ll direct you to Southern Fried Science, the blog of a shark lab member at my alma mater, the University of Miami. They know way more than I do!
While in the city, we also learned a bit about the city’s history (details in a later post), and I visited some colleagues at the University of Technology, Sydney. It was an excellent trip – one of my favorite so far. But it was only the beginning of my Australian adventure. My next stop was the capital city of Canberra. A rundown on that trip is on the docket for my next post!