Day two in Brisane was cool, but sunny. A very autumnal day. After a sumptuous, decadent breakfast that would make a hobbit happy, and a number of meetings about conference logistics we headed to Stradbroke Island, or '"Straddy" Island as the locals call it. We visited to inspect the marine biology station on the island, which if you are in the marine biology field I would highly recommend. It's run by Kevin and Cathy, a married Brit and Canadian couple, respectively. I noticed that when I first met Kevin he sounded Australian, but the more I talked to him, the more his northern, Lancastrian accent started to come out. The same happened with Martin the British chef yesterday - he started off sounding Australian, by the end if our tour of his kitchens he was talking like Ray Winstone. I guess I bring out people's inner Brit.
Stradebrooke Island is one of the largest sand islands in the world, whose entire economy is based on sand mining, tourism and conservation - the former and latter often at loggerheads. Humpback whales swim past on their migration to their breeding grounds and there are resident populations of dugongs, bottlenose dolphins and Indo- Pacific humpback dolphins, with the latter two species associating with each other in mixed groups when they feed. I read a lot about this area when I did my PhD, it was one of the first areas where my study species was researched, and so it was nice to actually see it in. There is a bit oft a problem with locals feeding the dolphins though - they are pretty smart, and essentially lazy - not unlike university students in many ways - and will do anything for a free lunch (dolphins that it not the locals). But locals and tourists have started feeding begging dolphins fishing bait (which is not the cleanest/healthiest of foods) and tourists have been caught feeding the dolphins hot dogs and other inappropriate foods. The animals are also getting more aggressive and are showing less fear towards fishing boats as a result, so there is inevitably going to be some conflict between the dolphins and humans in the near futures, and no doubt the dolphins will lose.
Kevin and Cathy took us on a tour and it was great to stand on a promontory looking out at the crashing waves and white sandy beaches, being blown by the salt sea air, after days of meetings or being cramped on a plane. We saw an echidna crossing the road - apparently it is really rare to sees this egg-laying porcupine- like creature, so that was very neat, even if we nearly ran the beast over. We also screeched to a halt when we saw a koala and baby by the side of the road - something that caused my colleague to squeal like a little girl. Seriously, koalas are ridiculously cute, but unfortunately are becoming endangered. However, developers are lobbying strongly against listing them as such, because it'll hamper their ability to build or deforest in many areas, and in Australia it seems like business pretty much wins out every time. On a final animal note, there's a population of kangaroos that live on the beach, and when it gets hit they go swimming in the sea to cool down. I would have loved to have seen that.
In the evening we went to an organic restaurant to meet with some local scientists, and to drink more wine. This was the first restaurant I had been to on the trio that was not vegetarian friendly. The even the plate they gave me they had to modify. Even the vegetables were cooked in oyster sauce or meat juice. It was supposed to be famous because it was locally sourced and organic, but with sword fish, farmed salmon and wild caught, trawled shrimp in the menu, their environmental credentials weren't great to say the least. It was also host to one of the most bizarre deserts I've ever had "Deconstructed carrot cake". Literally the component parts of carrot cake on a plate - with entire baby carrots next to blobs of butter cream. It was ... Uh ... interesting, but an example of concept being cooler than the food was edible. In general presentation was better than the taste - I tried my colleagues chocolate brownie and it was one of the worst I have tasted - dry and stale, although it looked nicely arranged. I can't say I would recommend the restaurant to anyone - definitely more style and image than substance on many ways. A complete contrast to our lunch which was a little coffee shop/restaurant, full of hippy character with a great vegetarian menu, really tasty - and cheap - home made meals, and big slabs of cake like your momma used to make, and washed down with locally brewed ginger beer and delicious fresh coffee that was a life saver for our severely jet-lagged brains. If you're a Brit - it was a meal that would make the Famous Five happy. If you're not a Brit, trust me, that was a wholesome compliment.
Deconstructed carrot cake
Jet lag is playing merry hell with my sleep patterns - I keep waking at 2 am and 5 am, wide, wide awake and raring to go. Then crashing at various points during the day. Anyway it's nearly 5 now, and I really should try to get some sleep, even if my messed up biorhythms are resisting ...