In January 2017 I made the long trip up the Queensland coast from Gladstone to Cairns to start a new adventure. After fond farewells with some great friends and co-workers I'd met in Gladstone, I set out on the two day road trip to Cairns, hoping my car would make it there in one piece! Despite the (even) hotter than usual conditions caused by a heatwave, and a journey in excess of 1000 km, both me and my car made it to Cairns successfully.
It was my first time in Cairns, so I had a week to be a tourist before the serious business of being a PhD student began. There's plenty to see and do here, in the city itself and the beautiful landscape surrounding it. There are a few beaches but you can't really swim in the sea as there's a danger of being stung or encountering a shark or crocodile, there's plenty of beautiful creeks for a swim though which are a refreshing cool temperature (unlike the sea at this time of year!). The Tablelands are on your doorstep, a beautiful volcanic landscape with lakes and waterfalls cutting through the rainforest. The Great Barrier reef is a short boat trip away and I went on a snorkel trip to the outer reef which was awesome, there were reefs filled with brightly coloured corals and a huge diversity of fish, many of which were not afraid of us snorkelers. The north of the GBR in general has been hit fairly hard by the bleaching event last year, but not all of the reefs have been affected in the same way. It was sad to see some of the corals had been bleached but it was hopeful to see that most at the sites that we visited were doing well and some corals just had patches of bleaching on them.
After my week of adventures I had the daunting but exciting prospect of my first week as a PhD student at James Cook University, I'd been working towards getting a PhD scholarship to study seagrasses for some time so it felt pretty amazing to finally be starting! My first week consisted of meeting lots of people at the Uni, including the 15 strong team in the Seagrass Research Group, doing lots of admin, generally finding my feet and starting to plan my research in more detail. My PhD is part of a bigger Australian Research Council funded project which will be looking at what eats seagrass and how the interactions of these herbivores shape the seagrass communities and the services they provide to us humans. A big part of this project will be trying to understand more about deep water seagrasses, which occur in lots of locations around the Great Barrier Reef, we know where many of these deep meadows are, but we know little about them. It's up to me to decide exactly which direction to take my research in, but to do that I need to do plenty of reading to come up with my own proposal - so that's what I'll be focusing on doing over the next few weeks (as well as all the official inductions with the Uni).