Scientists in Schools

Students making a difference

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  • Julie Kereszteny, Cooktown State School, Cooktown, QLD
  • Jason Carroll, South Cape York Catchment Group

For the past four years, Jason has worked with Cooktown State School students to improve the health of Keating's Lagoon by excluding feral pigs and cattle.

Before construction of a feral pig exclusion fence, students conducted a wetland health assessment at the lagoon.  Then at a second lagoon site they helped build another feral pig exclusion fence.  After the fences were constructed, no signs of pigs or cattle were seen inside the exclusion area.

Lagoon Before

Lagoon after

Three years after the lagoons were protected from feral pigs, students helped to reassess the lagoons to document changes in wetland health. Both fenced lagoons showed a significant improvement in overall condition scores. Levels of water quality, human impact, feral pig damage, vegetation diversity, bank condition and habitat provision were some of the indicators monitored.

The baseline data collected by students has been vital to Jason and his team in determining the effectiveness of the project. As improvements were seen in ecosystem health, their project has been replicated in other locations.

As they were involved from start to finish, students felt a sense of ownership over the project and the importance of their work was reinforced when their data was used in South Cape York Catchments’ reports. “Students were able to see that although the work may take years, it does have success and it is worth putting in the steps to get the achievement,” said Julie. 

More recently, Jason took 70 students to the Homerule rainforest area to complement their study of rainforests. Students were welcomed to country by the Bana Yarralji Rangers with a smoking ceremony. As the groups walked though the spectacular Rainforest of the Wet Tropics, Rangers explained the cultural significance of the rainforest and waterways on their country and gave examples alongside the western science of how rainforest ecosystems work.

Smoking ceremony
Jason explains, “I believe our Scientists in Schools partnership gives the students an opportunity to consider a broader range of career paths that may help them with future career path choices. This may also help our regional community, if these students choose to come back and work here as skilled professionals”.