César Zuleta's Diary

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 Monday, July 28, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008 Saturday, August 2, 2008
Sunday, August 3, 2008 Monday, August 4, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008 Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008 Friday, August 8, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008 Sunday, August 10, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008 Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 15, 2008 Saturday, August 16, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008 Monday, August 18, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 Some words as an introduction…
First of all, we have to recognize the importance of this kind of research. In my project, we must also accept the fact that climate change impacts our surroundings and affects several elements, such as the biodiversity of the ecosystems, human life, etc.
When we are preparing for research, we have to conduct an extensive study of the place. We must consider potential factors that can cause climate change, such as variations in mean temperatures, precipitation, and humidity patterns.
Among the possible elements affected by climate change that we can count include fauna, flora, cultural heritage, and, most important, humans. It is important to know the different stresses that these elements are experiencing, and we have to measure in time and space the thresholds that they can tolerate to keep their natural form without exposing their vulnerabilities.
After we have found the stresses, the next step is to find the possible responses to this large queue of issues. It is necessary to find all the solutions to every issue. That’s why we have to take measurements and monitor the various factors in order to create an effective prevention plan.
I will do this kind of work. It is very important for me to do something to help conserve our heritage.
Some words about happiness…
I was very happy and, at the same time, very surprised when I was informed about my selection and the country I would be going to—Australia. During my life, I considered reaching the fifth continent was an impossibility due to the enormous distance between Hungary and Australia (as opposed, say, to Ecuador). My conclusion was that there is no impossibility that man cannot overcome.
I read the diary of Vivien Talbot, one of the selected fellows for 2008. I value the impact this program will have on all of us as we participate in the different research projects. We are really fortunate to be going to diverse places so we can better understand the function of our environment. Alcoa is not just words—it takes action.

Monday, July 28, 2008 Before departure
After the first emotions came tranquility and the dream of going to a distant country—all combined with a lot of work and the physical preparation for the long trip.

In April, I had my birthday. I received several gifts related to the voyage. There was someone who gave me books not only about the specific regions and traditions of the Australian people, but also about the national parks around the country. Someone else gave me personal information about the country. But the most valuable gift was a compass given to me by my daughters with these kind words: “We want you to return.” It was very nice to celebrate my birthday this year.

During the initial period after being selected, my interest was focused on knowing where exactly I would be going. I discovered the location of Cairns via the satellite maps on the Internet. To my surprise, it was easier to find the Climate Change in the Rainforest expedition location on the maps than the city itself. It made me very proud to find the expedition on the map due to the importance the project has. What a beautiful city and region!

As the days are passing, it is very natural to live with the idea of going to Australia as if I am in a real dream. It is not an illusion anymore. I feel it every day, and it has become like infinity.

Some days ago, I woke up from my dream. I saw that I had not bought anything for my future life in the rainforest. I had to solve this problem, so I decided to enter the shops and buy hiking boots, shorts, hat, lotions, and camera. I managed to buy all the necessary things.

In June, we received the list of the participants for the project. I look forward to meeting them to exchange experiences and live together while working to save this world with our small effort.

The project
The project is going to be conducted in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in North Queensland, Australia. The region extends for about 450 kilometers (280 miles) between Townsville and Cooktown. The project is directed by Dr. Stephen Williams from the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University.

There are eight volunteers involved with this expedition—five from the United States and one each from Australia, México, and Hungary (me). The other five people who will be included in the project are staff from Latin America, México (Vanessa), and Ecuador (Andrés).

Our work will concentrate on sampling in the two most important biodiversity hotspots for the region: the Central Wet Tropics and the Shire of Douglas.

The climate conditions in August—autumn in Australia—are very mild in the region, but the sampling occurs in altitudes ranging from sea level to 1,400 meters (4,725 feet). In these higher altitudes, the temperature will be lower than the average, with a mean minimum temperature of 17.5° Celsius (63.5° Fahrenheit) and a mean maximum temperature of 26° Celsius (78.8° Fahrenheit). During this month, the possibility of rain is low, with records that show dry periods. The average humidity is 71%, and the average rainfall is in the range of 20 to 40 centimeters (eight to 16 inches).

The places where we will be staying during the project are:
  • South Johnstone Forestry Camp (six nights);
  • Crystal Cascades Holiday (two nights); and
  • Kingfisher Lodge (six nights).
I plan to visit the cities of Sydney and Cairns by myself.

I will arrive there on August 4 at the very early time of 5:10 a.m. My flights will take me from Budapest, Hungary, on August 2 to Frankfort, Singapore, and then Sydney.

I have one day to visit the city, and I primarily would like to explore its most well-known symbol—the Sydney Opera House.

My departure to Cairns is scheduled for the next day at 11 a.m. After the project, I will return to Sydney and stay for three more days.

My arrival here is planned for 4 p.m. on August 5. I will see the city during the afternoon and the following morning before meeting up with the Earthwatch team.

This city is situated in the northeast of Australia in the state of Queensland. In August, the average daily maximum temperature is 26.5° Celsius (79.7° Fahrenheit). It is a little city but beautiful, with many facilities in which to have a rest after the hard work we will be doing in the rainforest.

After the participants meet the first day in the airport’s cafeteria, we will start our journey to South Johnstone Forestry Camp.

Friday, August 1, 2008 We received an email saying that our itinerary had changed. The new place we will be going to in the first week is the Home Rule campground (closest town is Rossville) in an area north of Cape Tribulation and just south of Cooktown. We will be staying in this campground and conducting sampling in some amazing National Parks in the area, such as Black Mountain National Park.
Our second week will be spent at Noah Beach, camping right on the beach within Daintree National Park. This is just south of Cape Tribulation. Even the place we will be spending our day off has been changed to Crocodylous, a lodge in Cow Bay in the Daintree rainforest.
The email also reiterated the importance of bringing warm clothes, a sleeping bag, good hiking boots or another form of totally enclosed footwear, and good wet-weather gear, such as a raincoat and hat.

Saturday, August 2, 2008 I left directly for the airport in Budapest (Ferihegy) from Alcoa Köfém in Székesfehérvár in the afternoon. It took only 55 minutes to reach the airport. My wife, Elsia, and only one of my daughters, Emese, accompanied me. My other daughter had flown to Oulo, Finland, some days before to participate in a summer course on Finish language.
In the morning before we left for the airport, we went to a wellness center to take a Finn, Turkish, and radiation sauna. It was great entertainment for us.
My first destination was Frankfurt, where I waited for the next connection for more than five hours. I used my time to read about the project and also read the book I have wanted to finish for years, “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann.

Sunday, August 3, 2008 Midnight: The jumbo jet left exactly at this time for Singapore. Twelve hours of traveling were awaiting me, and I did not take into account how tired I would be during this trip. I was only thinking about my arrival in an Asian country.
My seat neighbor was a Spanish student from Canarias who was going to Sydney to learn English. During the flight, I slept relatively well and only woke when the snack and meals were served.
6 p.m. Singapore time: The airplane arrived at a country covered by the sea, with beautiful mangroves and wildlife. The passengers were allowed to leave the airplane for one and a half hours. It was very useful for me, because I could move my body, walk for long stretches, and breathe fresh air heavy with humidity. Unfortunately, the time was very short, and we could not leave the airport to see the city.
7:45 p.m. Singapore time: The airplane left the city, and now my seat neighbor was a Malayan who lives in Sydney and speaks Spanish like I do. I received a lot of information, not only about the country and Sydney, but about Cairns and the rainforest, too.

Monday, August 4, 2008 Sydney
Due to the travel arrangements, I had to stay in this city for a day. When I learned I had this day off, I began to plan visits to the main attractions of the city, focusing on the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Olympic City. I became very excited while searching on the Internet.
The city was available to me beginning 5 a.m., when I arrived early and went through customs rapidly without any problem. I was already feeling the friendship of the Australians (these first opinions would later be verified).
My hotel was situated a few minutes’ walk from the beaches of Sydney, but it took me more than two hours to reach the sea since I was stopping continuously to take a picture or to see more carefully the various places. It was all new and very nice for me.
Because the cars drove on the left instead of the right like I was used to, I had to pay more attention when crossing the street. It was funny for me to read “Look to your left” or “Look to your right” on the pavement at intersections. My first impression was that even the Australians do not exactly know where to look before the crossing the street. My second opinion was that the Australians realize that a lot of tourists coming to this city are from countries where the cars drive on the right, as in Europe and the United States.
Sydney Opera House: Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in 1957, the opera house was built during three stages—podium, roof, and interiors—beginning in 1959 and finishing in 1973. In June 28, 2007, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I went around it a lot of times, examining the structure and thinking of the human creativeness.
Sydney Harbour Bridge: This is another important symbol of the city, with the Australian flags blowing in the pure, blue air. Many boats were crossing under it, heading to many destinations since the city is a labyrinth of beaches and peninsulas. The clear, blue-green water had a flowery perfume that invited us to touch it and make closer contact to obtain absolute relaxation. The bridge was designed and built by Dorman Long and Company, Ltd and spans Sydney Harbour near the opera house. Opened for traffic on March 19, 1932, it is considered one of the more beautiful bridges in the world.
As I said, the first colonists encountered the most beautiful place in the world in which to found a city. It could be paradise.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 Sydney. It was very difficult to wake up early in the morning. If it were up to me, I would have stayed in bed longer. But, I had to start my trip to Cairns, and the flight left Sydney at 8 a.m.
Cairns: As planned, I arrived in this city at 11:30 a.m. When we flew over the sea and the continent, the difference between the water near the coast and the Coral Sea water became clear. The water was sometimes blue, sometimes green, or a mixture of these two colors.
I reserved a room at the Acacia Hotel, which was recommended by the director of the project. It was a little but comfortable room on the ground floor. After I had a shower and unpacked my luggage, I looked for a restaurant in the city. While I was walking through the parks, I found it very pleasant to see another beautiful city of the world.
I found the Raw Prawn Restaurant, where I had a delicious seafood dinner. I walked for hours before returning to the hotel at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 Cairns
The expected day had arrived, and the expedition began. It was a special day that I have been waiting on for months.
It was again hard to wake up, since Cairns is eight hours ahead of my home. There was not any choice, since I had to get up and have breakfast.
I previously arranged to have the project’s organizers pick me up at the hotel around 11 a.m. They arrived in big, long cars with a lot of baggage. To my surprise, I could see that the three people who had breakfast beside me were part of our group.
Within minutes, we started in the direction of the airport to meet the others. Everybody came. The group had nine volunteers and six representatives from James Cook University (JCU), the project’s scientific coordinating institution. During the trip, we introduced ourselves, telling relevant things about our lives, families, and origins.
The destination was the Home Rule campground near Cape Tribulation in the northeast of Queensland. We arrived at 7 p.m., and the first question on my mind was where to sleep and how to set up the tent in this deep darkness. Everybody got a tent and a mattress, and Andrés, one of the Ph.D. students from JCU, helped us. In a matter of minutes, all of our questions were answered. The rest of the time was spent preparing dinner, which was ready in not more than half an hour. After dinner, we went to take a shower and then to bed, thinking about all that has happened this day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008 Last night was infinitely long. I could not sleep well because the air was fresher than I was used to, and several times I came out from my tent. The sea was not far from our site, and in the sky there weren’t any clouds. It was very clear, with millions of stars and a full moon. I have not seen a similar sky since my childhood in the northern hemisphere, but what a difference between the two hemispheres. The southern hemisphere’s sky has more stars.
The other thing that kept me awake was that the wild birds sang continuously. Later, I found out that some of the others couldn’t sleep either and, like me, came out from their tents at different times.
Having had breakfast, Steve briefly explained the program for the next days, focusing on the dangers of the jungle. He let us know about the venomous plants that were in the region and the crocodiles living in all the rivers. He told us not to take a swim while there.
The starting time was scheduled for 10 a.m., but near 11 a.m., we still were in the camp eating and talking. Nobody made an effort to move from our site. The Australians are people with a lot of time. They never are in a hurry, and they never are nervous. But when they have to work, they work hard, as I experienced later.
Objectives: The goal of the project is to provide an understanding of the impacts of global climate change, including global warming, on individual species, biodiversity, and the ecosystem process. From this understanding, scientists can make predictions about possible species behavior and location changes in the future.
Mount Misery and its surroundings were the first places we had to go for sampling. The group was divided into three subgroups depending on the sampling we were to take. I went with Andrés, Ricardo, and Aavil to investigate microhylid frogs. This species of animal is very sensitive to temperature and humidity variations.
We searched for the frogs under rocks, logs, and epiphytes (organisms attached to plants) since the humidity is high in these places. If the relative humidity declines, these animals look for other places, migrate, or die if they are not hardy enough. It is necessary to know the horizontal and vertical territorial distribution of these frogs to assume their distribution, and the sampling needed to be done during many periods of the year.
We began our sampling at 400 meters (1,312 feet) above sea level in transects of around three meters by 50 meters by 20 meters (10 feet by 164 feet by 66 feet). Before we began the sampling, we took the air and soil temperature, relative humidity, and rain and cloud measurements. In every case, we took the dimensions of the rocks, logs, and epiphytes, as well as their exterior (near them) and interior (under them) temperatures. Two more samples were made at the same altitude but in different places to obtain a more significant figure of their distribution. Unfortunately, we found only a few species in these places due to the dry season.
7 p.m. dinner: Kangaroo meat! At the moment I learned that this meat would be prepared for dinner, I did not believe it. I considered this proposal of eating kangaroo meat a joke. However, it was true.
While I was eating the meat, I thought about the jumping, boxing kangaroos I had seen in the afternoon near the campground, and I became very worried for them. This feeling varied as I continued eating with a good appetite because the meat was so delicious. We ate this meat at least five more times.
9 p.m. spotlight: We started for looking animals in the trees while it was dark, an activity called spotlighting. We returned to camp after two hours of searching unsuccessfully, but we had the happiness of having watched the jungle at night.

Friday, August 8, 2008 7:00 a.m. Woke up, showered, and ate breakfast.
8:30 a.m. I started this day with the same group as yesterday. We were to sample reptiles in a transect built to accommodate 4x4 vehicles. The Australians very much like to drive this kind of vehicle due to its usefulness in that region. It was useful, because we had to cross several rivers along the way. When we had to cross over large rivers, there were bridges, of course. During our expedition, we crossed four important rivers: Annan, Endeavour, Bloomfield, and Daintree.
The sampling occurred at 600 meters (1,968 feet) above sea level. We searched for reptiles in locations where they would bask in the sun, under logs, and among the leaf litter. Unfortunately, we hardly found any animals.
We ate our lunch near the river. In the afternoon, we sampled again with the same results.
5:00 p.m. A kangaroo family arrived near our campsite as if they wanted to congratulate us for our presence in this country. It was if they wanted to say “Welcome, men from the other continent.” We tried to reach them, but if we went close, they jumped and did not permit us to touch them. But we wanted to see jumping, did we not?
5:30 p.m. I was one of the people to help with the cooking. I cut some tomatoes, champignons, and more vegetables, but I effectively cannot cook. The dinner was delicious again.

Saturday, August 9, 2008 Today we visited Black Mountain, with elevations ranging from 400 meters (1,312 feet) up to 1,400 meters (4,593 feet). Its name in the aboriginal language is Kalkajaka, meaning the mountain of death. The Aboriginals have several tales related to the mystery of the mountain’s formation. It is a saint mountain for them, believing only God might have created this formation.
In reality, there are two mountains, one in front of the other. These mountains are composed of black granite boulders made of iron and manganese oxides. Between the boulders are numerous caves and huge holes where reptiles, snakes, and chameleons live.
When I saw these two mountains, I decided to climb. I needed to conquer the peak. From a long distance away, the stones looked like little ones. If you are on them, their dimensions are impressive—bigger than a man.
We began to climb them. At first, we were worried about the difficulty ahead of us. We had to attack the boulders as if we were in a labyrinth or were doing a puzzle. We had to calculate exactly where to step, many times scaling the rocks like a cat or spider. We could not reach the peak but climbed until about the middle. Steve, the expedition’s principle investigator, climbed up and descended as if he were walking in a city—rapidly and easily. He has been here many times.
It was more difficult to go down than to go up. We tried to go down the same way we went up, but it was impossible to remember and we searched for a new way down. At last, we were very happy when we took the last step onto the ground. I expect to climb these mountains again during my next visit to Australia.

Sunday, August 10, 2008 4:30 a.m. I woke up earlier today than the days before because I was in the group assigned to do the bird survey.
Collin and Vanessa, the other Ph.D. students, accompanied me. Collin is a bird specialist, and he can tell the difference between the sounds of almost 50 birds. We saw only a few birds due to the thickness of the vegetation, but we could determine the kind of birds present by their songs. I could hear the song of a cockatoo, yellow-tufted honeyeater, spotted catbird, etc. We walked on a 150-meter (492-foot) transect six times.
The distribution of fruit in the rainforest is essential for the life of these birds. Drastic changes in the rainfall patterns can cause variation in the abundance of fruits, and decreases in the quantity and quality of fruit can lead to a decrease in birds.
In the afternoon, we went back to Black Mountain for horizontal sampling of reptiles in a section about one square kilometer (247 acres) in size.
8 p.m. This was the third time I went to Black Mountain, but the first time at the night. It was the best experience I had throughout the whole expedition. I cannot describe with words the beauty of the night there—a black sky, a full moon, and the immensity of the sky with millions of stars.
The blackness of the mountain combined with the blackness of the sky formed a complete harmony in the universe. I could feel on me the irradiating energy accumulated during millions of years. On this night, I could have been a poet writing the most famous ode that man would have ever written.
I found the Southern Cross, the Scorpio constellation, and many others. I laid on the big stones for minutes. If it were up to me, I would have stayed there for hours until the next day, but I knew it was not possible.

Monday, August 11, 2008 We again went to Black Rock Mountain, this time to sample around the mountain for reptiles.

In the afternoon, we visited a waterfall, where we had spare time and an ideal temperature for a walk. We walked a lot today—more than the previous days. The water was extremely cool, so the time we reserved for swimming was very short. We thought that having a sunbath would be better than possibly catching a cold.

When we returned to the campground, the kangaroo family was waiting for us but kept the distance accorded to them. Apparently, a 25-meter (82-foot) distance was required. I managed to take more photos of the family and tried to get close, but they knew about the distance requirement.

Every afternoon after the sampling and before dinner, we tried to learn Australian sports, such as cricket or Australian football, with only a little success. Today, we played Frisbee. It is really a good sport created exclusively for me. Frisbee as we know it in Europe requires only two people to play. In the game here, we had to not only throw it but also try to make a goal against our rivals. It was difficult to play, since we had to be very mobile and throw the Frisbee well to each other. We played four against four, substituting one or two of us at different times.

This night was the last in Home Rule. I saw one more nice sky in this part of the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 Everybody woke up early today because we had to leave our campground. We needed to disassemble our tents, pack our bags, and also pack the common things, like food, tables, chairs, etc.

In the middle of the morning, we left Home Rule in a car driven by Steven. We again crossed several areas of the rainforest, always with admiration for the green surroundings that were sometimes interrupted by a big river or a little village where the tired people in our group stopped for a refreshing drink or to eat sandwiches we had made.

Our destination was Crocodile Resort, which was located at Cape Tribulation. The objective of our visit there was twofold. One was to have a rest after the hard work, wash our clothes, and charge the batteries for our cameras or cellular phones. The other was to have recreational time since tomorrow was our day off.

We arrived at the resort in the early afternoon, and immediately we chose our rooms in the bungalows with four beds each. It was a comfortable room in the jungle with electricity and potable water.

In the evening, we participated in a common dinner prepared in the resort’s restaurant. We could choose from several international dishes, and I decided to eat a kind of Italian—Australian chicken—and drink Australian Cooper’s beer.

It was not easy to choose among the different things to explore in that region, because there were many exciting places to go and things to do. These included watching crocodiles in the river from a boat, canoeing on quiet rivers, rafting in fast rivers, or seeing Australian animals in the zoo.

If I had had more free days, I would have done everything. At last, I decided to explore the coral reef, not only because it is a World Heritage Site, but also to snorkel in the reef’s crystalline water and see the fish and coral.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 It was decided that the minibus would come for us at 7 a.m. to take us to where the ship would leave for the reef. Because of this, we had to wake up early in the morning. The ship was leaving at 8:30 a.m., but people staying in other hotels also had signed up to go on the same ship, and the driver had to collect all of them.

We were taken to the ship by boats. After two hours of cruising, we reached the reef. Its water was quite different from the coastal water—what a difference between them. The coral reef water was crystalline, and we could see several meters deep.

During the last minutes of our trip out to the reef, I began to put on my swimsuit for snorkeling because I didn’t want to lose any minute of this adventure. I could see several species of colorful fish swimming around the coral. It was a very nice experience for me, and I again felt like I was in paradise.

In the afternoon while we had lunch, the ship moved to another place on the reef for more snorkeling. We again had approximately an hour to enjoy it.

At 4:30 p.m., we left the ship and went by bus to our accommodations.

Thursday, August 14, 2008 We had to move to our new place today so we could continue with our research and sampling work. Our goal was Noah Beach, also situated in the Cape Tribulation area.

9 a.m. We started relatively early from the resort. After we had breakfast and packed our bags, we departed with a little nostalgia since we were in a comfortable place and used the trappings of modern life.

We only traveled today. Nothing more happened until we arrived at the place. We again had to pitch the tents and cook, but before we started this work, I wanted to go to the sea to swim. I ran near the sea for about half an hour, and it was very nice to run barefoot. Unfortunately, I could not swim since the water was still cold.

After running, I felt a little ache in my left foot, but I thought it wouldn’t keep me from running tomorrow. However, my feet continued to ache, and I could not run barefoot on the sand the next day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2008 9 a.m. I started out with Steve with the objective of finding an ideal place for tonight’s sampling in a stream. The chosen place was situated near our new campground—about 20 minutes by car—by a river with thick bush and big trees.

8 p.m. We went directly to the place chosen in the morning with the goal of doing a good sampling this night. Everything happened as we had calculated.

When we arrived there, the first thing we could see was a pair of bright eyes illuminated by our powerful lamps. Steve said it was a crocodile, and we were excited about that. According to Steve, seeing such an animal is difficult, because they like to wait for their prey and not move for hours. We watched this pair of eyes for minutes, but the animal did not move. It was located 200 meters (656 feet) from where we stood. We decided to continue our trip with the vague thought of watching it later.

Steve told us to begin with the sampling. We were very fortunate tonight, because we found a number of frog species, reptiles, and some snakes. Steve caught one of them with a little piece of wood—he was like a magician. Andrés also found a particular frog species. We took the animals with us to classify them.

After an approximately two-hour walk, we decided to return to our starting point with the hope of encountering the crocodile. Our wish was fulfilled, as we managed to find it some meters below, which meant it had moved some hundred meters. He was swimming in a visible place in the river, which allowed us to identify and watch him very closely. It was a very young specimen, about 1.5 meters (five feet) long. He had a big mouth that opened after he located himself opposite the water flow, waiting for his favorite meal—fish. We saw him for about 15 minutes before he continued his way up the river.

Saturday, August 16, 2008 9 a.m. We departed for Mount Sorrow to sample frogs, with the group directed by Andrés. We did the sampling inside the bush and along the route, with little success.
We found only a few species.
The population of frogs around the world has declined during the past 50 years, and today many of them are considered threatened. We can be fairly confident that the use of pollutants, the introduction of predators, and the effects of climate change are the causes behind the reduction in frogs and habitat. I think that the rainforest in Australia is no exception.
5 p.m. I helped in the kitchen tonight. During the preparation of dinner, everybody usually sat around the table talking about their respective countries and experiences. These include not only those concerning our work and families but also future participation in similar projects.

We also were very anxious to read news from outside. The national newspapers only are published once a week on Saturday, so some of the Ph.D. students went to the nearest village this morning to buy them. In the afternoon, we spread the pages and read them word for word, as if we had not received news in years.

8 p.m. I wanted to know something about the Olympic Games in Beijing and tried to catch the information on Australian Radio. We could get the signal in the campground when we had spare time. Some of us even carried our radios to catch the signal in the rainforest, but we didn’t have any success.

The Australians are interested in sports. They are good at swimming, but this year they won Olympic medals in sports considered non-traditional for them, like basketball, canoeing, diving, etc. The radio reporters were well qualified, and they covered the play of their citizens with enthusiasm.

Sunday, August 17, 2008 5 a.m. We again headed to Mount Sorrow to do a bird survey. We were fortunate this morning, as we could hear the songs of many birds, and we could see more of them, too. We stayed there until 8 a.m.

9 a.m. We next went to Jintaba National Park to sample frogs and reptiles.

Reptiles are very sensitive to changes in air and water temperatures, and their body temperatures and life cycles depend on the equilibrium between these two temperatures. If the equilibrium is not significantly altered, they do not suffer disturbances to their life. If the air and water patterns are not optimal and vary extremely from a defined threshold, the population of the more sensitive species would decrease.

This day, we observed some species of geckos and managed to catch three. We classified and then released them back to nature.

8 p.m. We went spotlighting on Mount Sorrow, climbing until we reached an altitude of 800 meters (2,625 feet). Unfortunately, we could not find any animals in the trees.

Monday, August 18, 2008 9 a.m. We went to the same place where we found the crocodile days before. Our goal was to show the others the exact place where we had seen it and how the animal moved in the river. Unfortunately, we did not see any crocodile today.

3 p.m. This afternoon, we had some spare time. We decided to spend part of our time near the water playing cricket and swimming, but the water was very cold and swimming was suspended until another time.

I could not run along the coast due to my aching feet, but I walked on the sand for a long time. Later, I wrote the main parts of what happened the last three days for my diary. I also read the book “The Magic Mountain” that I carried from home.

7 p.m. Steve had gone to Panama to participate in a conference about climate change, so the spotlighting scheduled for tonight was suspended. Instead of going to the forest, we stayed in the campground to talk about our experiences during the expedition.

I felt that the atmosphere around us was sad—it was a prelude to our finishing the project. Everybody spoke about where to meet in the future and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. For example, Richardo and I invited each other to visit Hungary, Iceland, and México as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 5 a.m. We started out for the Discovery Center, a place where we could observe birds from a very high tower situated in the middle of the rainforest.

Like all the time we spent in the rainforest, the weather was beautiful and clear. The humidity was higher than the previous days, reaching around 80%.

The number of bird species we saw was extremely high today. The birds flew from everywhere. They appeared from the left and the right, always forming nice, colored figures in the sky.

We observed cockatoos and different kinds of pigeons that came back from Papua New Guinea, where they spent the winter, to enjoy spring here in the Australian rainforest.

Our visit finished around 8 a.m., when the birds went perhaps to have a rest after they had eaten.

10 a.m. We next went to Jintaba National Park to sample fruit. It is necessary to know the distribution of fruit and which fruit species the animals feed on, because the specialists can make calculations about the population variation and take steps in the future if the population is diminishing.

In our sampling, we collected 15 fruit species.

2 p.m. When we returned to the campground, we saw a snake that was trapped by the others in the group. It was a big specimen, about two meters (6.6 feet) long.

7 p.m. We had our farewell dinner, which was held in a restaurant located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from our campground. Everybody wanted to taste the delicacies of Australian cuisine. I asked for a special fish—barracuda—with fried vegetables. Somebody else had the same, and I thought it was a good choice. After we ate and had a beer, we went back to the campground to drink the farewell champagne.

In conclusion
The objective of this project was to locate possible changes in the population of different animals, such frogs, reptiles and birds, as a consequence of the effects of global climate change.

I have been really involved in this kind of investigation for years due to my original profession as a meteorologist. I accept that the climate change is a reality and the variations in meteorological patterns are affecting the normal life cycle of animals. Rainforests around the world, for example, are significantly exposed to variations regarding rain, humidity, and temperature.

During these two weeks, we obtained mixed results. We collected important information about the distribution of the population of birds and the fruits they usually eat. But due to the dry season, we did not obtain enough information about frogs and reptiles even though we tried to sample in different hours and territories.

The information we collected is telling the scientists that some changes are really happening in the rainforest. The scientists have to provide information and suggestions to decision makers to create more effective laws, such as restricting tourism or modernizing existing industries around the region.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 We left Noha Beach this morning, as this was the last day of the expedition. Everybody was sad that a nice adventure had reached its end.

11 a.m. We arrived at a hotel in Cairns, where some of us had reserved rooms. I stayed for a night before starting my trip back to Budapest.

My last words
I’d like remark on how different processes probably contributed to climate change around the world.

The greenhouse effect: The earth receives energy from the sun. The atmosphere permits the entry of short-wave radiation, but a big part of what was once reflected energy—long-wave radiation—is now being absorbed by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2).  CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere by natural (decaying vegetation) or anthropogenic sources (the burning of fossil fuel).

CO2’s current concentration in the atmosphere is around 365 parts per million (ppm), and it’s important to note that this concentration is almost the same all over the world. Since the industrial era, the concentration has increased almost 120 ppm. This gas is considered one of the biggest factors behind potential changes in the atmosphere.

Methane gas is also considered a contributor to the greenhouse effect, although its concentration in the atmosphere (1,745 parts per billion) is lower than that of CO2’s. However, its potential is many times higher. Over a period of 20 years, methane gas’ effects were 72 times more than those of CO2.

Emissions of methane could be natural (wetlands, termites, and oceans) and anthropogenic (energy, landfills, ruminant mammals, and waste treatment).

Acid rain: This is a form of precipitation mainly caused by emissions of sulfur and nitrogen, which come primarily from electricity generation, vehicles, and factories. When these emissions reach the atmosphere, they react with other components, causing the acidification of the water particles suspended in the air. This kind of rain has adverse impacts on the forest, killing a diversity of animals. If the trees are attacked by the acid rain, they also die, causing a variation in the meteorological elements of the region.

Air pollution: Different kinds of gases caused by human activities are emitted into the atmosphere. These are called anthropogenic sources of air pollution. Carbon dioxide is one of the principal anthropogenic sources that can damage the balance of heat in the atmosphere. Non-anthropogenic source also considered air pollutants are gases and ash emitted by volcanic activity.

I thank Alcoa and Earthwatch for the opportunity to help with climate change research. These types of projects contribute to a better understanding of the atmospheric mechanisms and their direct effects on animals, plants, and humans. I also thank Steve Williams, the principle investigator for the project, for the sincere support he gave to all the volunteers.

Photo Gallery

View the images from César Zuleta's diary.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Climate Change in the Rainforest

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.