Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology

Examine the ecological and cultural patterns, processes, and dynamics of Australia’s two most diverse environments—the Wet Tropics Bioregion and the Great Barrier Reef.

This program explores the terrestrial and marine ecosystems of far North Queensland and the relationship of traditional and contemporary human cultures with the environment. Students interact with scientists and local experts from organizations such as the Lizard Island Research Station and the Wet Tropics Management Authority to gain a firsthand understanding of ongoing conservation efforts in an exceptionally diverse environment.

The program's field-based modules allow students to:

  • examine the diversity of habitats and environments within the Wet Tropics Bioregion,
  • study coral reef conservation and management issues, and 
  • experience traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and culture.

Learn more about the program’s excursions.

A Leader in Tropical Conservation
Australia is the planet's only developed country containing significant tropical rainforest and coral reef systems. Because of this, many people regard North Queensland as a "proving ground" for conservation efforts of tropical forests and coral reef systems worldwide. North Queensland's economy emphasizes agriculture and nature-based tourism.

The region's well-educated public, strong conservation infrastructure, and extensive science and community involvement in nature conservation efforts are other important factors explaining why the region can serve as an example for tropical ecosystems management and conservation globally.

Throughout the program, students examine the regional landscape and particular histories, perspectives, and values of its diverse inhabitants.

Read reflections by Amanda Lu (Harvard University) on her semester on the program. "Dingoes, Terrestrial Leeches, and the Bush: Reflections on My Semester with SIT Australia".

Read the spring 2013 student article "Studying down under: Diving into lives of platypus" describing research conducted on platypus density and foraging during the program’s rainforest excursion.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

A World-Renowned Region
Students experience the very best the region has to offer: reef, rainforest, and the outback. A hallmark of the program is its strategic proximity to the Wet Tropics Bioregion and the Great Barrier Reef: nowhere else on the planet do two World Heritage Areas occur side by side.

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is renowned for:

  • Having more plants and animals of a wide evolutionary time span than any other rainforest in the world
  • Containing more than 50% of the bird species, 60% of the butterflies, and 36% of the mammals found in Australia, although the area comprises less than 0.1% of Australia's total land mass
  • Spectacular scenery including mountains, volcanic lakes, and waterfalls
  • Being home to rainforest Aboriginal people, whose oral tradition dates back thousands of years; these communities consider the area a living cultural landscape.
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is renowned for:

  • Containing the world's largest collection of coral reefs
  • Being the most diverse ecosystem known
  • Its spectacular natural beauty
  • Being a habitat for species vulnerable to extinction like sea turtles and dugongs; these species continue to play an important role in the cultures of indigenous Australians.

Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Cairns

Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields, as assessed by SIT. Read more...

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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