Snapshot: Kuranda, Cairns

Nestled within mountain ranges and along lush green canopy, Kuranda is a beautiful and quirky Cairns village in the far north's rainforest, accessible by scenic cable car and draped in rich Indigenous culture. It's wealth of native animals, including the endemic Kuranda tree frog (Litoria myola), and expansive tropical habitat transform Kuranda into a place where birds, koalas and butterflies can be quietly and closely observed along its jungle walks and within its wildlife reserves. There's platypus and crocodile and green tree snakes to see, but only for the most respectful of visitors. The winding hillsides are home to gaudy parrots, fig trees and illuminous Ulysses butterflies. And whilst set upon a backdrop of tragic Indigenous history, Kuranda now homes a population of 3000 locals who preserve its cultural roots, making this remote village one of Far North Queensland's most special and memorable hideaways. 

226023229_5f76b70b26_o.jpg

Whilst on assignment in Cairns, Australia, I took some time away to visit the Skyrail, taking their sweeping cable cars along the skyway to Kuranda, where I visited the locals and immersed myself in the complex Indigenous culture. With views of expansive canopy, mountain range and an endless ocean landscape, the cable car trip was a stunning forty-five minute ride from nearby Cairns city to the remote Indigenous village. I disembarked two or three times along the way to take botanic tours and photograph the diverse variety of trees and leaves around the scenic walkways. Some said they'd spotted lizards and koalas, and others collected pictures of colourful spiders and an array of coastal birds. 

Kuranda, a mountain village in Cairns, winds along forested hillside tracks that were carved out by it's early settlers. The village has a rich history and has been home to the Djbugay ("dja-bu-guy") people for tens of thousands of years. A massacre of Indigenous groups is thought to have taken place at Skeleton Creek several hundred years ago, and conflict arose between its Indigenous population and the Gadja (white man) when a railway was proposed after the hinterland was opened for mining gold and tin in the early 1880s. But despite it's dark history, Kuranda is proudly draped in its Indigenous arts and culture. And it's passersby surely agree; after the village established it's first 'rainforest markets' back in the late 1970s (where local craftspeople sold their works to attract new visitors to the area), the Kuranda markets now command thousands of people every day.

D0D32FA8-80CF-4671-A340-82D826998697.JPG

Whilst the 'village in the rainforest' is kept alive by it's booming tourism, it also presents a strong emphasis on preserving its natural habitats and wildlife (such as Kuranda's Koala Park and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary). Budding ornithologists are met with bustling bird song, a joyous reward for eager bird watchers. If you look closely, harmless freshwater crocodiles might sun their bellies on the river banks, observed from above on the Skyrail. Platypus inhabit Kuranda, with the village one called Ngunbay, or, "the place of platypus." 


The Cairns-to-Kuranda-railway is a heritage listed site and journeys visitors from Redlynch to Crooked Creek Bridge and well over the stunning Barron Falls. A picturesque waterfall flows over the rock face of the Stoney Creek and Surprise Creek bridge. Being situated in the tropics, Kuranda's weather experiences only mild variations in temperature and only consists one of dry season and one wet season. The village's orographic influences mean Kuranda can be humid.

8683C3CF-63F5-44D3-8285-CE29D3A9E45B.JPG

A far north hideaway with something for everyone, Kuranda is an essential visit for those looking for scenic trails, quiet observations, culture, arts, crafts and wildlife and conservation. 

A humble thank you to the Scenic Skyrail in Cairns for hosting me for this visit. You can view their cable car details on their website, www.skyrail.com.au, and book trips for up to six (or eight) cable car travellers at a time. 

Elissa SursaraComment
Snapshot: Antarctica (A Collection)

Since the summer of 2012, I've spent unusual amounts of time crossing the equator to venture back and forth between Australia and my second home in frosty Antarctica. My quests to the most desolate continent in the world have captured the attention of a curious audience, even so much as to solicit a request I write about it for The Huffington Post. Popularity considered, it made sense to share a few favourites from my collection over the years - from tabletop icebergs to adelie penguins and leopard seals - alongside some important excerpts about the continent's vulnerable conservation status at the hands of it's human shepherds. 

IMG_5240.JPG

With no Indigenous population to describe it, Antarctica is rife with curious imagination. In books from Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild, the continent is described as violent and stormy and beautiful in its flora and fauna. Their descriptions don't do the snow city justice. If it were music, Antarctica would be Mozart. After mother whales birth their young, they journey together deep into the Southern Ocean sanctuary to feed. The sun shimmers across their bellies in the summer as they roll in the seas of gray, and it twinkles across bits of broken iceberg left behind by yet another cascade. Petrels and albatross take to the skies, battling against speckles of snow and bullets of rain, searching for fish and squid to bring home to their mates-for-life. Orcas and leopard seals patrol the seas, knocking seals off ice flows and chasing stray penguins. Antarctica has a mythic weight; it resides in the unconscious of all of us. It's like outer space. It's like going to the moon.

I was the same age as Ernest Shackleton when I first braved the region, and with every visit, I'm more and more struck by the effortless beauty of the icy jungle. From the mountainous points of the west to the spouting fin whales and leaping orcas in the east, Antarctica remains the single-most resonate landscape I've encountered along my journey in conservation biology.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 8.14.42 pm.png

Antarctica is the Earth's southernmost continent and the world's fifth largest zone. It's a southern desert with temperatures that range well beyond below freezing, and is inhabited by only a few hundred people every year. The continent is governed by parties of the Antarctic Treaty (1959), a de facto condominium, prohibiting military activities, mining and the dumping of nuclear waste.

But that doesn't mean Antarctica is not vulnerable to it's own kind of human predation. From illegal whaling fleets catching minke and other whales for so-called scientific research, to Patagonian toothfish fisherman hauling controversial nets from the untouched seas, Antarctica is effected by exploitation and climate change. It is in the west, across the shrinking WAIS, that the first signs of climate change are seen. The west coasts are ice-free during the summer, clad only by mosses and lichens that have evolved to withstand the violent cold. They belong to the Marielandia Antarctic tundra, a biome, in which tree growth and expansive biodiversity is prevented by the incredibly low temperatures.

During bridge patrols and on board the anti-whaling vessel, my temperature was governed only by three layers of Patagonia cold weather gear and the warmth of my tiny shared cabin. At the base, surrounded by biodiversity, my exposed nose and cheeks stung in the cold. But time and again, it was the lure of the stunning landscapes and fields of penguins that kept me outside, braving the cold, to experience the Antarctic views. And in Antarctica, the views are spectacular.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 8.17.00 pm.png

The Antarctic sun is a magic unto itself. Unseen in winter, the sun never sleeps during an Antarctic summer. Sometimes it hides behind the rain and clouds, but though you may not see it for days, it's always there, illuminating the tips of toppled icebergs and twinkling across the silhouettes of parting rain clouds. It paints the morning skies with pinks and purples and showers the evenings with its vibrant yellows. 

For a naturalist, the biodiversity is unlike any other.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 8.18.08 pm.png

The Antarctic coasts are home to soaring seabirds, noisy penguins and diving seals, including the emperor penguin, who famously breeds in the freezing and dark Antarctic winters. It was on my first expedition South that I fell in love with the black-browed albatross and gentle petrels who often took refuge from their exhausting hunts on the vessel wings. Southern fulmar, Cape petrel and the scavenging southern giant petrel also feed and breed along the coast, whilst the seals of the Antarctic Ocean, including the predatory leopard seal, the giant elephant seal and the curious Ross seal make up the visiting mammal life, bathing in the coastal shallows and open seas where they are hunted by the fierce and transient orca.

It was there in the Antarctic Southern Ocean that I spotted my first orca; a free and wild bull with a dorsal fin seen clearly from the furthest end of the 400ft vessel on which I lived. He travelled with his pod, leading females and babies across the bow and far off to the starboard side.

In the depths of the Antarctic waters, whales of all kinds pass through during their summer migration. Followed by whaling ships, spy-hopping fin whale, minke whale (or the lesser rorqual) and blue, beaked, right, sei and sperm whale lead the way for the iconic baleen humpback to cruise toward the Antarctic humpback whale nursery, where pregnant mothers birth their clever young in the summer seas.

Beside the towering icebergs and flows, transient orca feed on colossal squid and sleeping fur seals, while the breeding southern rockhopper penguin (famous for its distinctive feathers around the eyes) live amongst the king, chinstrap and gentoo penguins of the subantarctic waters.

Most species, endemic and passer-by, are part of an elaborate and naturally maintained ecosystem, relying on the autotrophic phytoplankton and krill to build upon the intricate food chain of the Antarctic pelagic environment.

The+bridge+wing+of+an+Antarctic+research+vessel.jpg

In Antarctica, unregulated taking of whales and fish, such as the Patagonian toothfish and minke whale, remain a serious biological problem. Commercial whaling in Antarctica is unregulated and operated under a guise of scientific research. Whalers aboard factory ships target whales who migrate during the austral summer, harpooning mostly minke, but also fin, sei and humpback whales protected in 1982 by the International Whaling Commission's moratorium. The females killed are often pregnant.

Climate change has also reached the glacial environment. As Antarctica warms, parts of the Antarctic Peninsula have begun to shrink. In 2009, researcher Eric Steig noted that West Antarctica had warmed by more than 0.1°C per decade in the last 50 years. As a mixture of carbon dioxide emissions and inflow of warmer water from the deep ocean contribute to the melting of the continent and the continental shelf, you can feel and see the effects of unusual warmth down South.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 8.17.55 pm.png

The last discovered continent and my second home, Antarctica, is a mysterious and expansive biological mecca. The protection of the remote, hostile and intriguing environment is vital for the conservation of the Earth's climate and ocean systems. Frozen within the thick ice are the secrets to the word's climate history, and along its coast and seas are the planet's most iconic and keystone wildlife species. Though remote, human beings rely upon a healthy Antarctica for its resources and its biological information. It's protection through our stewardship is our human responsibility.
 



Read more on The Huffington Post.

 

Breakfast with Table of Plenty

When you're shifting between timezones, it's easy to fall victim to travel fatigue. It only takes one missed flight, one missed deadline or one failed biology exam to realise that staying fueled and nourished is optimally important - even if you're running late.

Skipping breakfast is an unhealthy way to start any day, particularly one that's full of tasks and travel. Breakfast fuels you for the day, fills you up until lunchtime (or snacktime), gives you energy, helps you perform better, and according to some studies, it even prevents irritability.

After years of fobbing off a proper breakfast, I decided it was time to shake up my wake up and include healthy oats, fruits, carbs and wholefoods in my morning routine. I wanted to include plenty of nutrition, plenty of ease and plenty of taste. 

After some trial and error, I found my niche with Australian owned Table of Plenty. They came highly recommended by friends at the Endeavour Foundation who partnered with them to further their work disabled youths and adults in the workplace.

I placed an order for Table of Plenty's dukkah, as well as their muesli and on-the-go snacks. The first package arrived, full of wholesome goodies, like mini rice crackers, macadamia muesli and mixed berry squeeze top drinks. 

unnamed.jpg

The dukkah blend (made up of nuts and spices) quick became a favourite, and I found myself adding it to everything - breakfast, lunches, dinners, snacks, smoothies... I even sprinkled it on my bagels and wholemeal toast. The dukkah blend, inspired by Egyptian and Moroccan cooking, pairs wonderfully with everything, and I sneak it with me into cafes and restaurants to add extra pep to everything I've ordered. 

With the help of new foods to kickstart my morning, I've become more productive throughout the day and more creative with my early morning meals. This method of mindful eating has stopped me from absent-mindedly snacking on the wrong things before lunch, before flights, before exams and even before bedtime. 

You can check out Table of Plenty's selection of breakfast foods, snacks, probiotics and dukkah blends by visiting their website: www.tableofplenty.com.au

This post was sponsored by Table of Plenty.

I've pledged to ditch plastic straws with Lonely Whale

Plastic straws are bad for the planet — they’re not recyclable, they end up in our world’s oceans and they kill our vulnerable marine life. An estimated 71% of seabirds and a futher 30% of turtles found onshore have traces of plastic in their stomachs. More than half of the world's wildlife who eat plastic debris, including whales and dolphins, will die after ingesting the product. It sits in the gut, is not digestible, and slowly kills our iconic species. 

In research from the Univeristy of Melbourne, Professor Andrew Holmes estimates that the average person touches something plastic every ten minutes. Plastic is used in everything from the keyboard you type on to the pen you write with. It's in your contact lenses and glasses. It makes up the Teflon in your frying pan and there's traces of plastic in your phone, your clothing, your TV screen and even in your car. Around 8 million tonnes of it found its way into the ocean in 2010, and those numbers are only increasing.

Because it's designed to be durable, plastic takes a very long time to degrade (if at all), which means plastic in our oceans can live on for generations; and with more than 500 million straws in rotation every day in the United States alone, the time to act on plastic has never been greater. 

So when Lonely Whale and Adrian Grenier nominated me to ditch plastic for a #strawlessocean, I knew I had to take their pledge.

The first few steps were easy. I sprawled "bring your reusable cup with you today!" on my bedroom blackboard and gave myself points each time I remembered it. I only frequented cafes that offered discounts for bringing your own reuseable mug (like Starbucks), and if I forgot my mug, I'd duck into a store and purchase myself a new cup to replace it.

Next came refusing straws altogether. Whether it was at restaurants, bars, or even the cinemas, I opted out of plastic straws in my beverages. Glass cups were easy, but movie beverages and take away cups with plastic lids were more challenging, so I opted out of plastic lids too. And if I really needed a straw, there was always the option of a reusable one, like the stainless steel straws from Biome. 

The pledge got me thinking about other ways I could reduce my plastic consumption, and within a few weeks, I'd opted for cotton and linen totes to replace plastic grocery bags and I began upcycling jars and plastic tupperware around my home (they make great spice jars!).

Before I knew it, I was bringing glass containers to put loose groceries in, carrying it all back to my car with linen totes and refusing plastic lids and straws everywhere I went.

With plastic waste becoming a pandemic, it's important to rethink our relationship with it, and to actively reduce our use of plastic if and where we can. I'm so honoured to be joining celebrities like Ellen Pompeo, Paul Nicklen, Chris Burkard and Ashlan Gorse Cousteau in ditching plastic with Lonely Whale and strawlessocean.org.

I nominate you to take the pledge and to encourage your friends to do the same!









You can head to the Strawless Ocean website to take your pledge and invite friends to join you.

 

 

Elissa Sursara in CLEO's 30 under 30 Influencers

I could not be more thrilled to announce that I've been included in Cleo magazine's annual 30 under 30 most influential people for 2015. I'm featured amongst some incredible young people working toward great change for people and the planet. It's nice to be recognized for my work for the environment. Copies are on sale for the month of May with Zooey Deschanel on the cover.

Elissa Sursara in CLEO magazine
Elissa SursaraComment