Location: Cairns, Australia

We are winding down the final days of the program here on the good ship Argo. It is the Sea|mester version of finals week with most classes wrapping up today and tomorrow. Papers are being completed, fish ID books illustrated, and exams conquered while we sit at the docks in the heart of Cairns. Today, however, marked the first day of split activities between the Navigation Master Examinations group 1 and the Great Barrier Reef dive group 1. We had an early breakfast so that the half of our students headed out today to dive the GBR had enough time to get a quick meal in before they jumped on a dive boat that traveled 30mi offshore to the center of the reef. To give you an idea of the size of the reef system, it is about as long as the east coast of the United States from the tip of Florida to Maine, and it covers an area the size of the Appalachian Mountain Range. The title of Great might be an understatement. The coral forming the reef is experiencing a significant threat to its existence due to global climate change and the warming tropical seas. We are very lucky to have a chance to dive the reef while it is still relatively healthy, but unless we all do a bit to reduce the impacts of climate change, it is increasingly likely the GBR will experience a mass extinction event in the coming decades. The dives were a wonderful but humbling reminder of the majesty of our natural world. Having the opportunity to immerse oneself in a thriving habitat far from the interference of humanity is a once in a lifetime experience that will impact many of us for the rest of our lives.

The city of Cairns has been a really incredible place to visit as it has a beautiful downtown area with pedestrian walkways and parks dominating the cityscape. The number of outdoor events and concerts that seem to spring up in the small parks that dot the city keep the energy of the urban landscape vibrant and refreshing. It is a nice but drastic change to be back in the bustle of a city considering the relative remoteness of the places Argo tends to visit. Many young backpackers and students from the nearby university are driving the businesses to be hip and sharp in their presentation. I have never in my life seen so many barbershops in one area, and each one seems to be its own experience with coffee and refreshments being served in the presence of booming music that is more reminiscent of the club than a hairdresser. A few students and I decided to try out the hipster barbershop, and all were pleasantly surprised with our new hair arrangements. In all Cairns is a great city besides an even greater reef, and it has been a pleasure to be here.

Pictured: Views from the Great Barrier Reef dives; sunset over Cairns, nighttime Cairns skyline.