Monday, February 10, 2014

Sustainability in Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Australia seems to use much more solar power than New Zealand. I found solar panels on many houses during my travels. I spoke to one sustainability fellow at James Cook University that mentioned the government had provided tax subsidies for private home owners to install up to 4.7kw solar panels on their homes. That is more energy production than the wind turbine that we recently installed at Indiana State University. That home owner had noted that they always provide more energy to the grid than they need for their own home. This is a great diversified energy production model that does not rely on a few large polluting power plants. It also has the opportunity to have greater resilience, because that energy is produced throughout the grid rather than in a few centralized locations.

We also saw some state installed solar panels such as this skate park that had a full canopy of solar panels that provided shade as well as energy production. This was located on Maggie Island which is technically part of the city of Townsville.

I saw a wide variety of recycling and litter bins such as this one on the beach at Maggie Island. Recycling seemed to be more regularly integrated into the trash system throughout Australia than I have experienced in the US.

Maggie Island, also frequently had mini Mokes for rent which is a small jeep-like vehicle that was mainly produced in the 1960s. They have great gas mileage and look fun to drive around, although they could not handle the many steep dirt roads that were fairly common on the island.

Paluma (where we did a rain forest hike) is part of the Australian National Park System. This was a nice area, although I was interested in seeing that there were residents in the park area. I believe that they had 100-year leases from the Australian Government to maintain their homes. We had a nice picnic at a local park that was next to the Paluma Environmental Education Centre. Nathan said that most of the eight grade students in the state spend three days at this environmental centre.

During our visit to the waterfalls at Crystal Creek in Paluma Queensland, we saw wild mango (Mangifera indica) trees and one squished Cane Toad (Rhinella marina). Both of these organisms where introduced. The mango was introduced from South Asia for cultivation and is a major tropical fruit product for the area. The cane toad was introduced to control the sugar cane grub but because of differences in their life cycles, was never very effective at controlling the cane grub. It has become an invasive pest in Queensland because there are no native predators that can handle the toxicity of the cane toads.

We ended our day of rainforest hiking and Crystal Creek swimming with an obligatory stop at the Frosty Mango. They cultivate a large variety of tropical fruits and make them into ice creams that were quite good. I was most impressed with their displays of the fruit. They had a poster of all of the species as well as a fruit stand outside that had the scientific names of all of the fruits they had to offer. Queensland is also a major producer of sugar cane, pineapples, and bananas. We saw fields of this production from our drive from Townsville to Paluma. Just like I saw in Tasmania, Melbourne, and around Aukland in New Zealand, much of the land has been cleared of its native vegetation for agricultural production (and grazing in New Zealand). This made all of these landscapes very familiar since they were similar to the European landscapes that are also common in the US.

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