By Nick Scroxton

The Great Barrier ReefIt’s very easy to get jealous of other geologist’s fieldwork. Over the summer months the department empties and when everyone returns, with tans, scars and a myriad of exciting stories about dicing with death halfway up a cliff fleeing a horde of angry bears. Or something similarly exaggerated. It’s very easy to feel a bit of envy.

My fieldwork is pretty exciting; I get to muck about in caves. Its dark, damp, hot, sweaty, exhausting, smelly and muddy work and involves lots of heavy lifting. Fun? In some ways, yes. In lots of other ways, not really.

Just before Christmas I got a last-minute offer from one of the lecturers in the department to help out on an undergraduate field trip the following week. A trip to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Here was the chance to spend a week in the sun, experiencing what life is like in the field for perhaps the most enviable of field-geologists, those that study coral reefs.

Plus, since I didn’t grow up in Australia, I had never been to the Great Barrier Reef before. The Great Barrier Reef was like something out of mythology, something I had heard much about and studied a fair bit. So I decided to ditch my work for the following week and jump at the chance.*

Reefs may not sound much like caves, but they actually involve very similar chemistry. They are both composed of calcium carbonate, that’s the stuff that forms limestone, coral, marble and chalk. Combining this with some quick revision of my undergraduate notes, I knew a fair amount of what was going on.

If the chemistry was similar, then the fieldwork was anything but. Who wouldn’t enjoy a week out in the sunshine, in warm temperatures on a desert island, going snorkeling over the reefs, swimming in the crystal clear waters? It was bliss.

In amongst the fish watching and some coral identification there was a small amount of sample collecting. Plenty of spare time so go swimming with rays and turtles and spot sharks. There were even turtles coming up out of the sea at night to lay their eggs, an amazing experience. Plus the obligatory sundowners at the end of the day. Gin & Tonic with ice and lime anyone?

So being a reef carbonate geologist has amazing fieldwork, but would I give up the caves for it permanently? Call me crazy, but no, I quite like my caves!


*Ok, I admit I took my laptop with me to see if I could squeeze in a few hours of work here and there.