Our brave participants embark on an adventure. On the other side of the planet, they will face the unknown, discover the local flora and fauna and the aboriginal culture in an extraordinary park : Kakadu.
Le Journal de Bord
Sunday, Aug 4th, 2019
Carine, Laura, Mathis and Cyril left Sydney to greet Aurore in Darwin. We were joined by Gauthier, already in Darwin for a few days in order to get used to the jetlag.
Unfortunately, Paolo is still in Singapore on account of a missed connexion. Our team of educators, Anne, Melody and Karol, should welcome him tomorrow, right before we leave for the park.
Monday, Aug 5th, 2019
A long day for a short drive.
Morning was dedicated to getting our two 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Well, at least for Anne and Karol who woke up at 6:30am. The other ones could sleep late. Lucky them.
Once we got our hands on the cars, it took quite some time to pack the vehicles with all our luggage. Then it was time for groceries. Enough food for a full week ! Again, we had to make it fit in the cars.
Right on time to retrieve Paolo at the airport before the big departure for Kakadu.
And Paolo landed as expected. But not his luggage...
It took some time to try to sort it out, so we decided it was better to stay close to Darwin for this first night. At least, we could put up the tents during the day. Which took quite some time. Luckily, it will get better and better. Everybody’s spirit is still high despite the delay. The swimming pool at the camping sure helped.
Tuesday August 6th, 2019
After some long and eventful preparations, we finally made it to Kakadu National Park. The key target of our expedition, whose mission concerns the intensive study of the biosphere (animals and plants) located there.
The first campground we decided to settle in is called Aurora Kakadu Resort. A decent complex with all the facilities needed.
As an original way to begin, we decided to walk through the Gungaree Billabong Walk Circuit.
The sunset was drawing near and the sky became more colourful as we progressed.
We had the opportunity to make the following observations :
At the very beginning of our walk, we saw a Female red-tailed black cockatoo located in one of the highest barks of a tree
On some trees, more at our level, we spotted multiple spawns of spider webs, whose shape is reminiscent of bird nests.
The insects in Australia are actually very different from the ones we ordinarily see in the northern hemisphere. A kind of dragonfly particularly captivated us. Very thin wings with bronze coloured skin. We also observed some termite colonies from very close range, as well as some ants “highways”, used by them to link their colonies to relevant locations, essential for their survival.
Some of us even heard the characteristic jumps of a Kangaroo which seemed to be located behind the bushes. Only one of us saw it.
One of us had the opportunity to take a picture of a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo parrot.
At the end of our short walk, we arrived in front of a swamp with multiple species of birds living there, such as the Magpies goose. We took a lot of pictures and made intensive observations with our binoculars. In the background, some black smoke behind the trees and probably originating from bushfires recalled us how fragile and ephemeral this environment is, and the importance of studying and protecting it.
Wednesday August 7th, 2019
In the morning we woke up at 6.30 a.m. to get to Mamukala wetland. The goal was to watch and learn more about the different types of birds at the sunrise - Mamukala wetland being a very prosperous place for the Australian biodiversity.
o To begin with, Ann introduced us some Aboriginal knowledge, such as the fact that they identify six seasons.
o Then she explained us the different ecosystems existing as a function of the season. After the theory, the practice came with the observation of the birds with the help of binoculars. The objective was to spot as many different types of birds as possible. Most of us reported seeing three or four. Among them were a lot of cormorans, about the same amount of plumed whistling ducks, few magpie gooses and egrets.
This bird observation is the very first glimpse in the scientific work we are going to do in Kakadu. As Ann explained to us, along this trip we will have to identify and count the number of birds in each bird species. This inventory added to water quality tests will help us better understand the impact of tourism on the birds ecosystem in Kakadu.
o On the way in and way back, on the road, we saw few wallabies and crocodiles.
During the afternoon we went to Ubirr on the tracks of this Aboriginal sacred site. There we saw some Aboriginal arts. It consisted in paintings – made of a mix of blood and ochre – on the rocks. As the Aboriginal culture was an oral one, these paintings are among the only remains we have from a civilization of more than 65,000 years omd. In Ubirr, the Aboriginals represented some animals like the turtle with a long neck - which by the way helped scientific to date the period as they know when some species got extinct. They also represented some daily life situations, such as a human hunting. What was even more interesting was the story behind these paintings. As we already mentioned, the Aboriginal did not have proper writings. Hence, they educated their children by explaining them some moral rules orally. In that way they used some allegories to explain them. One of the paintings represents a man stealing some food. It stands for the story of the Aboriginal people who got punished to die in a cave after having stolen some fish.
At the end of the day, we watched the sunset from the very top of the Ubirr rocks, where we could enjoy the amazing landscape.
Thursday August 8th, 2019
This day we have done 2 visits in 2 different places, one in the morning, the other one in the afternoon. Then the start of the research approach we need to run during this expedition.
In the morning, we have been to BARDEDJILIDJI for a walk showing two worlds : the wet lands and the dry sandstone ones.
Along the Alligator river, the dense vegetation benefits from the wet climate. We have seen some different trees and plants like the paper bark tree from which one can extract the external part to use as a paper ; the paper bark is used in particular for cooking by the aboriginals : they put meat in banana leaves then in wet paper bark envelope and then cook this on a fire in earth, then recover to cook like in a steam cooker. We have also seen a Fig tree with some dry fruits on the ground. And mangrove trees even inland (it is the dry season). As for the animals, it was interesting to see signs to prevent people from the danger of crocodiles present not only in the “Alligator River” (even though they are crocodiles and not alligators) but also in the ponds of the billabong around.
Just going out of the wet lands, in a few meters, we have entered a dry land very hot with a vegetation radically different and marked by the sandstone. It is interesting to observe the sharp change between these two worlds just existing side to side. The dry sandstone part is showing a discrete vegetation with some remarkable spiral tree or plant / grass family (“pandanus”) having their new leaves growing according to a spiral scheme like a cork screwdriver. Also we have seen a very precious tree for aboriginal people : the “terminalia” tree that has been providing seeds eaten by them all over the year ; they were roasting these seeds to conserve them all year long, or grinding them to make a flour and use it later on. A last example would be the bright yellow flowers from the “wattle” family trees.
But the most interesting part of this side is the sandstone rocks. And it was the occasion for us to discuss geology to understand the formation mechanism. Sandstone is made by deposits over million years then compressed and transformed into “rock” according to a process called “lithification”. These sandstone rocks have been formed between 65 and 140 million years ago (in some places close by they are 1,5 billion year old !), at the age of the dinosaurs. Interesting to remind where this sandstone is coming from : most of the material at the surface of the continents is coming from the continental crust made mainly of granite. Granite is made of 3 minerals : Feldspar, Mica and Quartz. Only quartz resists long to erosion, including the chemical dissolution by water. As a result, quartz is the main mineral sediment that we can find carried away on long distances by wind or water. Then the quartz is crunched through erosion to make the sand grains we all know. This sand ends up depositing at the bottom of the oceans and that way a layer is made at the bottom of an ocean. This layer grows until a radical change occurs : evaporation or retreat of the ocean at this place for example. Then the previous layer is covered by a new one from a different material and in a different way of deposition (any kind of dust carried by the wind for example) or just weathered by the wind and the water. Then ocean might rise again creating for a new period a new layer. That is what happened in the sandstone land showing many layers, sign that the periods of sedimentation have been relatively short and/or frequent. We have also observed at some places some rocks higher than the others ; the explanation comes from the fact that the peak has been protected by the erosion by a cap made of a tougher material than the rest of the layer. Therefore, the rest of the layer has been eroded and not this part letting a peak formed at this place. We also saw some cliffs. Cliffs show a dramatic difference of erosion, usually due to the presence of the limit of an ocean or sea where the tides and waves have eroded very quickly the rock. And most importantly the caves existing in the rocks have been used as shelters by aboriginal people. That was of course very precious for them to live in a cool place while the temperature outside under the sun is absolutely impossible to suffer for a long time, as we have experienced ourselves today. These caves have been the place for aboriginal artist painters : we have seen many representations of animals or hunters or some spirits. They used paints that obviously resisted over thousand of years, indeed protected by natural shelter of the rock, but their technic was remarkable in terms of longevity. It is said that the first paintings are from 20.000 years ago, while we have proof of evidence of existence of Australian aboriginal people for 65.000 years, making them the oldest original civilization still living.
In the afternoon, we have been to NAWURLANDJA that was mainly showing paintings like presented here above.
Then lastly this afternoon, we have started the RESEARCH we need to run during this expedition. The topic is : understanding the impact of the tourism on the water quality. The methodology is to collect data by observating how many bird species we can see, and how many individuals of each specie we can count. This place has been chosen as it offers a high concentration of birds at the same place, the level of the water being low.
We made groups of 2 and observed 20 minutes in a billabong. Most of the groups have found 8 species, of which 5 living in the water ; Ann, the researcher with us has found 10 as she can find details we cannot see. Among the 5 species, our group has found the ducks as the most abundant specie at a number of hundreds, the pelicans as the least abundant specie with a couple only, then 2 types of Ibis with white and black feathers, a long beak curved down in number of 7 for the “straw-naked ibis” and in number of 15 for the “Australian white ibis”. Then another beautiful big bird, all white with a long yellow beak : the “intermediate egret” in number of 6.
Then 3 other species have been observed but out of the water : an eagle the “fork tail kite” or “black kite” flying in the sky, a small bird flying in trees, and more than a dozen of corellas flying and singing loudly.
The objective of the study :
It is understanding the factors influencing the bird life. For example, we know that the Buffalos have the worst effect, the feral pigs the second worst. Now let’s see how tourism impacts it.
Friday, August 9th 2019
On this Friday 9th of August, after a restful night, we decided to wake up earlier than usual (at 5:30 AM), in order to explore the river and its ecosystem at some hours a typical tourist would potentially find unusual.
In order to proceed, we decided to get a tour on a cruise boat departing from Cooinda dock, stars were still visible at this moment. A lot of other peoples and families from a whole range of nationalities were also there, waiting for such a rare opportunity.
The whole tour on the river lasted a long portion of the morning, when we got the chance to enjoy the first glares of the dawn lights carefully touching the clouds, while checking for known and unknown animals during their normal August’s lifestyle on the mud.
Of course, with the sun rising, the emerging crocodile quickly stole the show, as their reputation as an aggressive and vicious behemoth preceded them. But our mission didn’t stop here, and we also made the following observations from other interesting animals.
Kingfisher, a little blue bird capable of catching its prey down the river in a very rapid manner.
Whistling Duck, living in huge communities at very close range. Unsurprisingly, their noises sounded like something which would have come from a whistle. Some of these colonies were at reasonable distance (20 meters) of crocodiles laying on the mud, which obviously were seeming to carefully check their potential preys for this day.
A bunch of white parrots which seemed to speak to each other in an unintelligible language to us (from now) before leaving their tree to another.
At some point, we were able to catch a glimpse of a compilation of 3 different species : 2 Brolga birds, which were parading (due to the distance, we couldn’t perceive if it was either a male trying to impress a female, 2 males fighting for the same female, or 2 youngsters, casually playing and showing off), one Jabiru, located next to them with a characteristic picky black beak, and one spoonbill, located a little apart from the others. The latter mentioned has a characteristic profile, with a wider beak, used to literally “trap n’ fish” small animals under the water.
As we approached the end of our journey, we came across a swimming, thin snake, coming straight from the shores, and aiming for our boat. Hopefully, it was unable to climb our impenetrable fortress, and we returned safely to our base.
Once the whole tour completed, we later headed to a lodge, where we became quickly befuddled by an original and highly customized English Breakfast.
Probably one of our fattest and oiliest moment of our entire trip. Not a good sign… or perhaps it is ? As our nights are going to get colder and colder the further, we advance inside. We need everything we can.
After the cruise, we did a little walk around the Aboriginal Centre , and we visited it.
The first word mentioned when we entered in the museum was that the land where we stand was aboriginal land, for they , this land is a really precious thing and they ask to us to take care of it.
After this , they explain their religion : “Djang”, the dream in English. According for them, hen they speak of dreams, they mentioned their ancesters ( “the first people” or Nayuhyugicame in aboriginal language). They had the shapes of animals like Bula, Namarrgon, Warramurrng undju and the rainbow snake who is the most iconic of them.
At the end of the museum, we watched a documentary who talking about the Kakadu Park and more preciasely on the differences between the wet and the dry season. During the dry season the trees produce less fruits and some animals slow down their metabolism. It is totally the contrary in the wet season, the vegetation is more green and flowers appeared on the trees. The animal come out of their hidden places for breeding and for feed themselves.
Saturday August 10th, 2019
We left the camp in order to reach Gunlom. We made a first stop at a natural pool called Maguk. The short (1km) walk to the lower pool, along the river, was really refreshing. The pool itself was gorgeous, and the views from the upper pool Simply stunning.
After that, we drove on a dirt road for quite some time until we reached Gunlom. Here as well, the participants could escape the scorching heat by swimming in a natural pool supplied by a waterfall.
Sunday August 11th, 2019
On this sunny morning, we went to the motorcar falls, we walked 7.5 kilometers to see a natural pool. A bee hive was standing on the top of a big rock, at 20 meters above the pool. We realized that there were many rocks located in there, including granite.
During this endeavour, we learned thanks to Karol that granite is composed of many minerals. A mineral is composed of ordered molecules or atoms. The granite is a very interesting rock because we can see without using any devices the three minerals that compose it : Quartz for the white colour, the Mica for the black one, and the feldspath for the red.
In the afternoon we worked on the science project of this camp, the project to study the impact of tourism on the water quality. For this we had to analyse water samples but also to observe the birds and the water bugs. We learned that water bugs can be useful about determining the water quality because some species appear only if the water is clean. We went to a natural pool in Gunlom near the camp where we slept. We managed to capture a water bug and a little shrimp by using an “net”.
Thanks to these animals, we were now able to see if the water was good or not. With the help of a net that Ann gave us, we could know that the bug we’ve caught was matching with a clean water. Then we analysed the water sample that we collected at the same place as the bug with a probe which told us a lot of information like the pH, the TDS, the temperature, the salinity and the conductivity of this water. With those data, we were able to say that the water hasn’t been polluted yet by humans.
Ann told us how to use a dissecting microscope, which allows us to see what we are doing because the zoom isn’t as important as an optical one. By using this device, we could observe the little shrimp. It was truly an amazing experience.
Monday August 12th, 2019
Today we have driven from Gunlom to Edith Falls, outside of Kakadu park, in further southern lands. The research activity has been oriented to water quality analysis of the waters of Edith falls. Edith falls are filling up a kind of little and gorgeous lake surrounded by cliffs on one side and by nice fringent vegetation composed mainly of pandanus and eucalyptus trees on the other side.
The water quality analysis proposed is twofold :
1- Measurements with a specific device of 6 criteria that are pH (7 is neutral, below the water is acid, above 7 until 14 the water is alkaline), Conductivity (ability to conduct the electricity permitted by the presence of ions in the water, the more there are the more conductive the water is), TDS (Total Dissolved Solid, meaning how much solid has been dissolved into water), Salinity (to measure the quantity of salt NaCl in the water, which makes the difference between “fresh water” of rivers and “salt water” of the seas or oceans), Temperature, and Turbidity (how deep can we see through the water).
2- Collection of bugs with a net, that are then classified according to a list from the very sensitive (value 8) down to the very tolerant ones (value 1). The existence of these bugs must be established, the number found and observed. Then a specific “weight factor” must be taken into consideration to then evaluate a “stream pollution Index” by dividing the total of “bug value” divided by the total of the respective “Weight Factor” given for each kind of bug.
The values obtained must be compared to a reference to assess the quality of the water as this method gives a relative value.
Today in the Edith Falls we have done the measurements of the 6 criteria in 2 different places determined by their latitude and longitude but no collection of bugs. It has been done by the full group of 9 under direction of Anne, we were on Monday August 12th, 2019, 4PM. The first place was inside waters, in shallow water between a little island and edge, and another in open waters at one meter of the edge in front of the big lake in front of us. The results are :
Place Latitude Longitude pH Conductivity TDS Salinity Temp Turbidity
Inside waters S14.181° E132.19° 7.5 13.5 10 14.7 23.1 All clear
Open waters S14.182° E132.18° 7.2 13.5 9.6 14.7 24.1 All clear
At this stage we cannot conclude anything, we can just collect information that will be interpreted later on with knowledge of references, and also completed maybe by the bug collection and analysis.
Tomorrow we should go above the Edith Falls where the water is coming from.
Tuesday August 13th, 2019
On this Tuesday, we had to wake up early, as we needed to pack all our belongings and leave the campground before 10 am. While we were dismantling our tents, we caught a glimpse of a nighttime gecko laying on a tree. It’s fairly unusual to see it by daytime.
Before heading to Katherine, our next destination, we were able to spare some time in the morning to engage a 8.4 kilometers long walk next to our location, in order to put the knowledge we recently got from Anne related to water testing into real life conditions.
The targeted environment, called « Sweetwater Pool » and located in Jawoyn territory, is ordinarily used as a very popular touristic spot where everyone is able to bath in a natural setting. One rudimentary camping is also available next to it, albeit someone must register before using it.
The main purpose of this mission was based on the following steps :
• To precisely map locations where water is present (no matter the size nor the origin) through the trail. The coordinates (lat and long) are to be recorded with a GPS tool。
• For each site, small portions of water have to be carefully analyzed with a specific instrument. Measurements will access the pH, the temperatures, the salinity, the TDS, as well as the conductivity. All of this will be recorded with a specific template (to be shown in the report).
• Once it’s done, the waterbody has to be described. What is its size ? Is this a lake surrounded by stones ? A swamp ? A river (flowing water) ? Waterfalls (high or low) ? How about the aquatic plants ?
• Is the wetland the prey of external nuisances ? Such as feral animals, erosion or human activities ?
• If possible, precise what kind of birds and insects we can easily spot.
• All the observations must be correlated with the data collected by the probe. And compared.
• At the end, we may be capable of finding a pollution index for each.
As the walk was relatively longer than anything we had priorly accomplished, some additional caution had to be made concerning the equipment. Free drinkable water is available just at the entrance, car park level, and some items can be purchased at the bar.
Furthermore, the trail was kind of rocky and exhausting at the beginning (lot of stairs), and the directions were not always well displayed.
The markers, consisting in a blue triangle drawn on a metallic sign, were set in a disorganized fashion, and sometimes not present when it was the most needed e.g : near crossroads.
In spite of these troubles, the mission went rather smoothly and the following results were gathered, along with some additional and useful information.
A total of 4 waterbodies were analyzed :
• Sweetwater pool itself
• A spot above a waterfall (a long pool below Sweetwater called Long Hole Pool)
• Another one downstream of Sweetwater pool.
• The last one at the upper pool of Edith falls.
The results can be found in the attached report.
• For each site, our measurements were all comparable and no anomaly was detected, although we realize some key differences compared to our previous measurements down Edith Falls (where we obtained an higher pH).
Some geological observations : We realized the entire path we walked on, and the river itself was actually installed on a huge and complex system of sandstones pulled one onto another in a very anarchic way.
These are actually the remnants of very old beaches when the entire region was located near to the ocean. They have overcome the test of time as well as the tectonic phenomenon for some millions of years.
The site can be characterized as an anomaly, as these rocks formations stands usually under huge layers of sediments, and not at ground level.
One pertinent sample can be found on this small rock (photo), where small waves ripoff can still be observed, printed on rock. Ironically, it is now used as some kind of object where tourists can casually sit on, like it was of no importance.
Wednesday August 14, 2019
Early wake up for everybody, since we thought we would do some canoe up the Katherine Gorge in the afternoon, but the renting company actually booked us for the morning ! Well, this way it won’t be too hot.
First, we navigated upstream to reach the first gorge. There we got our life jackets, paddle and we paired up in our double canoe. Time for some exercise while getting wet. Some like it (9 out of 10), some less (he always needs to be different).
It was the opportunity to see some nice sandstone cliffs (why don’t we climb instead ?). On our way back on the boat, we saw some birds (heron) and crocodiles.
In the afternoon, everybody was tired but started working on a scientific report to be handed at the end of the trip.
In the evening, we all (except one, as usual) had a nice barbecue with lots of meat, including some kangaroo.
Thursday August 15th, 2019
Nights are colder in the south, so we decided to go swimming in some hot springs close by the camping. Everybody (nearly everybody) had a wonderful long time in this warm water, before driving to Pine Creek, in the direction of Darwin. Yes, sadly, it is about time to come back. In the afternoon, some of us got wet again in the camping pool while others had a little nap and some played games.
Friday August 16th, 2019
A lot of driving awaited us this morning. We reached Darwin in the early afternoon, went to swimming while Anne and Karol dropped the cars back.
After that we finished the report, and went to see a last sunset in the city.
Everybody left Darwin, a little sad to leave this nice place, but also happy to have been able to live such an adventure. Some go back home (Anne and Paolo), others keep travelling to other places (Carine, Laura, Mathis and Cyril), and Aurore and Gauthier follow Melody and Karol to the red heart of Australia. If you want to follw their trip, here is the link :
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