Sunlover Reef Cruises Group Marketing Manager Sarah Butler said the innovative citizen science program involved camping out under the stars on the Great Barrier Reef at night.
“The inaugural Marine Biologist for a Day + Astronomer for a Night program hosted 27 students from an international school affiliated with Peking University,” she said.
“They camped out overnight Australian-style in deluxe swags at Sunlover’s Moore and Arlington Reef Marine Bases on the outer Great Barrier Reef, more than 40 kilometres off Cairns, as part of their trip with Australian International Student Tours.
“The new dual program builds on Sunlover’s highly successful Marine Biologist for a Day educational program which is aligned to the Australian school curriculum by adding an astronomy component,” she said.
“Students are given binoculars and planispheres to learn about the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere and how they are used for navigation.
“As well as learning about reef ecology, climate change, marine life identification and predators, they were taught how to complete a Rapid Monitoring Survey using an underwater monitoring slate to record observations on the reef.
Australian International Student Tours CEO Tanya Ferguson designed a bespoke marine science program to build the students’ knowledge of Queensland’s marine environment and the human impact on these fragile ecosystems.
“The 12-day itinerary started in southern Queensland and took the students north along the east coast examining a number of marine environments before their night on the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
“It was an amazing experience for the students and teachers as both Sunlover and the Great Barrier Reef put on a great show.
“Not only did they have the once-in-a-year opportunity to join a Master Reef Guide to watch the coral spawning, the marine biologist said it was the best coral spawn in five years with extraordinary water clarity for the event.
“The students loved every minute of their snorkelling and said the highlights were having the Great Barrier Reef to themselves and staying overnight under the beautiful Aussie sky full of stars.
“My company’s motto is ‘ichi go ichie’ which means ‘one lifetime, one encounter’ and this experience was the epitome of our motto so we will be returning again next year.”
Student Isabella was fascinated to see the Southern Hemisphere night sky and learn about it from the Sunlover educational team. “We saw the stars in the sky, and it was amazing – it was the first time I saw such beautiful stars.”
Travis loved seeing sea turtles and sleeping in his Australian swag under the stars. “We should have awareness of the Great Barrier Reef because it is our duty to protect it. Our main project for this trip is to learn how to protect the ocean and marine environment.”
John was amazed to see the corals spawning. “It’s a really good experience. We saw two or three sea turtles and it is very cool because we could see a lot of coral species. Snorkelling in this beautiful place is very good.”
Teacher Nevin said the program was planned well to increase the students’ knowledge and help them pass on their new-found environmental awareness to others. “It was just fantastic to see the Great Barrier Reef coral spawning, which is very rare, very beautiful. Through the journey we also were delighted to learn more about the marine life and environment with Sunlover’s marine experts and understand the human impacts on the environment.”
The wary but still enthusiastic students returned to Cairns to their accommodation at Hides Hotel and were treated to a special presentation by co-founder of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Jennie Gilbert who talked to the students about her work with turtles and how climate change is affecting them.
Sunlover’s Marine Biologist for a Day program has experienced phenomenal growth over the past two years attracting school groups from around Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, the United States, Western Europe and China.
The program is also available to groups of travellers who are looking for a more in-depth educational experience of the Great Barrier Reef.
This video shows highlights of the students' trip with Australian International Student Tours beginning with some river snorkelling with their Sunlover experience starting at approximately 0:39.
Video Credit/Copyright to Australian International Student Tours and Faber Nov 2019