Our plan was to collect water samples from various areas of the Gippsland Lake area to help students engage themselves with their environment. The water samples are to be used as evidence of the dangerous blue-green algal bloom currently devastating the lakes. It is said to be dangerous to swim in or eat anything from the lakes during the bloom. Our journey today would take us to face the culprit of the problem, the dredged inlet connecting the Pacific Ocean with the freshwater Gippsland Lake system.
The inlet was created to allow boat traffic, particularly from Melbourne, access to the lakes for trade and fishing use. Little did they know that the lakes would turn into a marine environment, completely altering the once freshwater ecosystem. Thankfully, measures have been taken to keep the salt water from reaching the many river systems that drain into the lakes. There is currently debate as to whether another inlet would allow greater marine water flow in and out of the lakes. I couldn't tell you but I would estimate that it would considering the current inlet is minuscule compared to the extremely large lake system. Due to the fact that tide and surf change the profile of the sea/lake floor, dredging is a continual effort.
We were soon on our way to Lakes Entrance after my arrival to her home. Our drive took us across the Nicholson and Tambo Rivers, both depositing their mountain water into the Gippsland Lakes. We stopped just short of Lakes Entrance in Kalimna where we took our first sample of the water. Kalimna is just west of Lakes Entrance and across the Narrows (just north of the inlet in Lakes Entrance) from Rigby and Fraser Islands. The sample looked clear and didn't show much evidence of the algal bloom.
We drove into town passing Bullock Island, and crossing the North Arm (arm of water north of town). We were fortunate enough to see a couple of the dredging ships docked on Bullock Island, which happened to also be the home of the fishing cooperative for the Gippsland Lakes and area. We parked in town and headed to Lions Park along the 90 Mile Beach, which separates the lakes from the ocean. We crossed a concrete bridge across Cunninghame Arm and started the 2.5 km trek through the shade of gum trees and banksias, a beautiful, native angiosperm.
As soon as I let my guard down on the hike, I ran across a blue-tongued lizard that must have been 25 cm long. I jumped a few inches off the ground when I noticed the non threatening creature in the corner of my eye. I just forgot where I was and that much of Australia was alive. I was much more alert for the rest of the hike.
After about 30-35 minutes of hiking we finally made it to the entrance where we took off our packs, and took our time as we gazed at the ocean. I had never seen surf this large since South Africa. As we looked closer we noticed a few seals dancing in the waves as if there was no current or rip tide underneath. After a water break and a peering into the sky, it was time to leave. The clouds to the northwest were extremely dark and we worried that we would soon get rained on.
Deciding to take the chance and not take the same path twice, we headed back along the beach passing time talking about science lessons. We came to find that our teaching philosophies were very similar and we were going to expect very similar things out of our students within the next few months! We also used the time on the beach to clean up trash that was left behind by inconsiderate people. We found a toy shovel, a rubber frame of a scuba mask, and even a thong sandal. We couldn' t find the other to make a pair. The sand was soft and was not easy to walk through but we managed to get back in one piece and luckily we were not rained on.
As we crossed the bridge to get back into town from the beach, we realized that we didn't get the sample we wanted from the entrance but agreed that 5 km was enough of a hike for the day. Flathead tails were on the menu and were very tasty! I've yet to have a bad meal since my arrival.
After getting some energy, we traveled back west toward Metung, a small vacation town 30 km to the south of Bairnsdale. We stopped at an historical farming property, Nyerimilang Heritage Park, I was not interested in the history when I saw the view that the previous owners had of the lakes and ocean. Spectacular. I was only distracted from the beauty when another one of Australia's native inhabitants caught my eye. The Huntsman spider is no small creature. I was told it wasn't Australia's largest but it was the biggest damn spider I've ever seen in my life! I was also reassured that WHEN it bit, I wasn't to worry because it was not poisonous to humans. Goody, one of the few in Australia.
We started traveling agin, only to stop again to retrieve our second water sample, this one from the shores of Nungurner. The sample had a greenish tint, giving some evidence to the algal bloom in the lakes. It will be more conclusive when it is examined under the microscope. The next sample, from Metung, was not as clear and was by far the greenest. I was anxious to wash my hands after collecting the sample.
Our efforts for the day were rewarded with an ice cream from the local store. We enjoyed them on the bench overlooking the neighboring islands as I discussed the similarities between Metung and a few Northern Michigan lakeside towns (Harbor Springs came to mind first). The weather certainly felt as if we were in Harbor Springs; cool, windy, and pleasantly overcast.
It was back to Bairnsdale to rest for the big day tomorrow. I am very thankful for the opportunity to explore the area today. When I got home I was pooped and ready to go to sleep but I was greeted by my host who had plans to go lawn bowling that evening. I, of course, wanted to tag along and partake in an Australian pastime.
Lawn bowling is a mixture between curling and bocce. Since it is played on grass, there is no broom involved, and since the stones are heavy and the ground soft, tossing the balls is frowned upon. The game consists of 6 overs and there are variations as to how many people participate but each team bowls 6 times per over, taking turns with the other team. The goal is to bowl the slightly asymmetrical balls closest to the jack, or the white bowl (sometimes referred to the "kitty").
As to my performance, I'll just blame the hiking on my lack of skill. I think after a few more goes, I will become more proficient.
Time for bed to get rested for my big day tomorrow when staff start school and start preparing for students to come on Thursday.