May 26

6:25 a.m.     depart Pittsburgh     Continental Airlines flight 3258


8:41 a.m.     arrive Houston         


9:35 a.m.     depart Houston        Continental Airlines flight 1

Great Barrier Reef

May 27

5:25 p.m.     arrive Guam

>> Where is Guam?

6:30 p.m.     depart Guam


11:10 p.m.   arrive Cairns


We will stay overnight in the Cairns Plaza Hotel.


Great Barrier Reef


May 28 to

June 3

After breakfast, we will take a 30-minute charter flight over the Great Barrier Reef to Lizard Island.  Lizard Island is located in the northern portion of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, 270 km north of Cairns.  It is a dry, rocky, mountainous continental island.  Almost the entire island is a national park and it has 24 superb beaches and great places for swimming and snorkeling.

We will settle in at the Lizard Island Research Station which is owned and operated by the Australian Museum, the oldest natural history museum in Australia.  Later in the afternoon we will have an orientation session to the Research Station and the marine portion of our Australia field course. This will be followed by an introduction to snorkeling off the pure white sands of Research Beach.

Lizard Island

>> Lizard Island Research Station

>> map of Lizard Island

>> image gallery

    Lizard Island was named by Joseph Banks, the botanist on Captain Cook's ship, The Endeavour.  It named it for the goannas that inhabit the island.  Growing to 1.5 meters long, these large monitor lizards are everywhere, sheltering in hidden burrows at night,  drinking from the clam shell footbaths outside the buildings, and battling it out with their rivals for food and territory all day.   Generally, they move out of your way when you get too close but occasionally one of the large males will stand his ground and hiss loudly at you. When this happens, discretion is the better part of valor;  these lizards have claws that you wouldn't want to mess with and a mouth full of bacteria.

The island also has five species of snakes and two species of tree frogs.  If you turn on the lights in the kitchen at night, you are almost certain to find a giant tree frog or gecko on the wall.  The only mammals on the island (apart from humans) are two species of bat.  About 10 species of bush birds are resident on Lizard Island, as well as numerous seabirds.

Gould's sand goanna

 Yellow-bellied sunbird

    There are four houses at the Lizard Island Research Station in which visitors cook and clean up after themselves.  They have bedrooms, shared bathrooms, a kitchen, dining hall, and large verandah.  Kitchens are equipped with all basic cooking and eating utensils; bathrooms have a composting toilet and solar hot water shower; all bedding and cleaning necessities are provided.



During our six days on Lizard Island, we will explore the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The course will include consist of practical field sessions in both the marine environment and the terrestrial environment.  Marine activities will involve group snorkeling expeditions in the coral reef environment.  We will take boats out to many of the reefs surrounding the island to observe different habitats and organisms.  Each day will include a morning snorkel, a mid-day lecture, and an afternoon snorkel. 

There are many different reefs, beaches, and bays on Lizard Island, each with something unique to offer.  We will go to a different site each time we go snorkeling, so you can experience the different habitats and see as many different organisms as possible.

Beach on Lizard Island


Some of the sites that we will snorkel include:

Giant clamWatson’s Bay, where you will learn to identify reef fish and observe fish feeding behavior.  We will also visit the nearby Clam Gardens, which hosts one of the highest natural densities of giant clams anywhere.  These huge bivalves, which may live to be 50 years old, grow to over five feet in diameter.  Although they are endangered in much of their former range, they are abundant here.

Horseshoe Patch Reef.  This reef has been protected from the coral eating "crown of thorns starfish," so it has a luxuriant hard coral community and large schools of reef fishes;

Turtle Beach, where we will observe the aggressive behavior of herbivorous reef fish and patterns of reef zonation;

Blue Lagoon, where we will snorkel a spectacular patch reef community, that includes two resident (and harmless) white-tip reef sharks;

Viki’s Reef, where we hope to observe sea turtles and possibly manta rays;

Green sea turtle

Palfrey Hole, where we will see staghorn coral formations that line the reef crest.   We may also encounter giant humphead parrot-fish that can grow to be 200 lbs.  We will also explore deserted Ghost Beach on Palfrey Island;

Crayfish Wall, where we will observe wrasses and reef sharks;

North Point and Mermaid Cove, characterized by spectacular coral walls that plummet into deep water;

One day, we will take time off to hike to the top of Lizard Island Mountain (360 meters) and stand on Captain Cook’s Look, where the famous Captain plotted his course after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1788.

The course will include lectures on the following topics:

Reef Lecture 1: Introduction to the station/overview of course activities

Reef Lecture 2: The Major Families of Reef Fishes, & sampling techniques.

Reef Lecture 3: The Biology of Reef Fishes

Reef Lecture 4: Identifying major taxa - hard & soft corals, other invertebrates

Reef Lecture 5: Biology of Corals

Reef Lecture 6: Physical characteristics & geomorphology of coral reefs

Depart Lizard Island Charter flight – Lizard Is. - Cairns

Bus transfer skytrans to Tuna Towers Hotel

>> What to take to Lizard Island

>> Communicating while on Lizard Island



June 3 to 4

Tuna Towers is located near the center of Cairns, right on the waterfront.  It is a short stroll from the Cairns Esplanade and the city's main shopping precinct.   From it windows, you'll have a view of some of Cairns most spectacular views across Trinity Bay and the surrounding mountains. 

    Mungalli Falls

June 4 to 7

Depart Cairns 0900am

Bus transfer Cairns - Mungalli Falls

Accomm. Meals Mungalli Falls Student Village


Rainforest Lecture 1: Welcome to the Wet Tropics

Rainforest Lecture 2: Flora and Fauna of the Wet Tropics Rainforest 

Rainforest Lecture 3: Determinants of diversity in the Wet Tropics

Rainforest Lecture 4: Ecological processes



June 7 to 9

depart MFSV for Cardwell. Aboriginal field activities.

Depart Cardwell 4pm for Cairns - bus transfer


June 10

    Return to Pittsburgh

June 11

Depart Cairns 1210am CO 903

Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA, USA