Early foray into edu-tourism is
NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer JJ Walker with Texas A&M University professor Gerard Kyle at Magnetic Island.
EXPLAINING to a group of increasingly wide-eyed American university students what will and won’t kill them in the Australian landscape is a role not normally tackled by project officers in the NQ Dry Tropics’ Protecting Biodiversity team.
The team is at the forefront of an initiative being trialled by the company in an emerging market: “edu-tourism”.
So far, NQ Dry Tropics’ role in edu-tourism has been to assist tourism operators offering educational Australian tours.
NQ Dry Tropics Natural Resource Management (NRM) Implementation Manager Peter Gibson said the company was “dipping a toe into the water in edu-tourism” but the potential existed to become more involved.
A cohort of about 30 students from the Texas A&M University, recently received the first lecture of their 24-day Australian tour from NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer JJ Walker.
The students landed in Australia the night before and stayed at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village on Magnetic Island.
Led by expatriate Australian, Professor Gerard Kyle, the tour was planned to include lectures and experiences to give the students an understanding of the marine and terrestial ecosystems in different regions, as well as looking at the conservation efforts in those ecosystems.
Professor Kyle said they would also gain an insight into the culture, heritage and knowledge of indigenous Australians during the trip.
Ms Walker’s lecture provided the students with an introduction to the incredible diversity in the Australian landscape.
She said the continent’s long geographic isolation and wide range of climatic zones resulted in its unique and diverse flora and fauna.
“Here in Townsville, we have a hot, humid summer and a warm winter, leading to tropical savannas,” she said.
“We get droughts, floods, fires, extreme heat and mild winters.”
She said the climate was so varied, different parts of the country could, on the same day experience 45 degree midday sun in one place through to snow fall in another.
The unique Australian wildlife including its monotremes and marsupials, was of particular interest to the students.
Ms Walker led a nature walk from Horseshoe Bay to Balding Bay and on the way the group encountered a koala, some spectacular spiders, various birds including kookaburras, flying foxes (heard, but not seen), green ants and a wide variety of native fauna.
She also pointed out some of the invasive weed threats encroaching on the fringes of the rainforest including mother-in-law’s tongue, daisy weed, leucaena and Captain Cook tree.
However, it was Ms Walker’s warnings about the dangerous creatures that might be encountered in the Australian bush that held most interest for the visitors. From the harsh Australian sun to venomous snakes and spiders, poisonous and prickly plants and the marine dangers to be aware of when swimming, the students were obviously paying close attention, one student coming back to the lecture venue to check if kookaburras were dangerous before negotiating a way around a visiting bird to get to her room.
Mr Gibson said NQ Dry Tropics’ involvement opened a potential new source of revenue at the same time supporting regional tourism and promoting the company’s achievements.
He said he thought there were three steps to progress the company’s involvement if it panned out well.
The first was this involvement with edu-tourism operator Brett Flemming from Bungalow Bay Koala Sanctuary and Mr Gibson hoped it would expand to include the option for students to get their hands dirty in some of the company’s beach scrub projects on Magnetic Island.
The next step would be to partner with other tourism operators to take them further afield in our region.
“Visiting a grazing property to help build a stick dam, would be one way we could build capacity and give them a hands-on NRM experience,” he said.
“Ultimately, if it is successful, we could offer, say a two-day package in partnership with regional accommodation and transport providers.
“We could take a group to a Bowen, or Collinsville property, visiting wetland, cane and grazing projects on the way.
“We would allow time for recreation – perhaps, some fishing – and maybe a beach barbecue at sunset.
Mr Gibson said he had been an edu-tourist in South America where, in Peru, he was intrigued to see sugar cane growing in a desert.
He had to learn more, and it helped him understand why people would be attracted to travel and learning.
NQ Dry Tropics’ NRM work does attract some corporate sponsorship, but the overwhelming majority of its funding comes from the State and Commonwealth governments.
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