13 months
Feb 1:
big snake!
big snake!
Feb 9:
yertle the turtle
Feb 10:
reef walking
Feb 28:
the low down
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(new zealand)

the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House at dawn
Sydney, Australia; Feb 19, 2005

the big tease

I’ve been looking forward to coming to Australia for so long, way before we started this trip. I’d always marveled at the pictures of the gorgeous turquoise waters and animals of the Great Barrier Reef. Especially after our last few chilly destinations, I’ve been keenly anticipating some long morning hikes followed by afternoons swimming and snorkeling in the ocean. As we drove up the coast from Cairns Airport to Cape Tribulation in North Queensland (where the welcome sign reads, “Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef”), I began to salivate over the miles and miles of empty beaches and shockingly turqoise clear waters… just like in all the photos. I’ve never seen any ocean with so many rich, blue colors. And unbelievably juxtaposed right across the narrow road, the vast rainforest prompted us to try and remember how many colors of green there were in our biggest box of Crayolas (which led to other discussions – you can learn a lot about a person by how they treated their box of Crayolas, but I digress).

We excitedly arrived at our destination, Cape Tribulation Beach House, and walked through our camp, passing the pool (a small jobby surrounded by a wooden deck and surprisingly crowded with guests), and down a small forested path to a gorgeous, deserted, white-sand beach. My over-excitement turned to confusion as I pondered why our camp’s small pool was packed while the beach, only steps away, was empty. We decided to inquire back at camp and were promptly advised NOT to go swimming in the ocean. HUH?

Apparently it is jellyfish season (“stinger” season the Aussie’s call it) and not only will these jellyfish sting you, they'll kill you. Kill-you-dead. Worse, it is apparently a most excruciatingly painful death. And besides the jellyfish, there are shallow-water sharks (I saw several), electric rays (I saw 2), and salt-water crocodiles (don’t care to see those up close)! Since the river from the rainforest bleeds right in to the ocean, crocs (and some fish) will swim in to the ocean and back to the rivers. And another thing – don’t pick up any of the pretty shells you see on the beach since they may contain animals with toxins that can kill you on the spot, too.

if you can't swim, you might as well work on the website...

So, there we are, on a secluded beach, looking at some of the most gorgeous ocean we’ve seen and we can’t go swimming. It’s pure torture – like an Atkins dieter in a French Patisserie. I was so frustrated that I decided to wade in… slowly, carefully. I had to. I couldn’t resist. Just for a minute or two. And it only made things worse since not only is it beautiful and full of wildlife, it’s warm, hot even… like taking a warm, relaxing, salt bath. Well, now we know and we’ll be careful next time to coordinate our visit while the jellyfish and crocks are off on holiday.

if it's not one thing, it's another

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


You've told us that the 10 most poisonous (whatever that means) snakes are
all in Australia. However, I have it on good authority that all 10 are
in zoos, so it's really quite safe...

--Donald S. (Chapel Hill, NC, USA); Jun 14, 2005

[This comment is from my pop, so of course the conversation went on from there. He did make the more serious point about the ambiguity of a statement like "the world's 10 most poisonous snakes," and he's right. Are they the snakes that have the most venom per bite, that have the most concentrated venom, that are most dangerous to humans, that have killed the most people, etc.? Also, he pointed out that "poisonous" is probably the wrong term to begin with (see below).]

[from a page on the California Academy of Sciences site]
Poison vs. Venom:
These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually have very different meanings. It is the delivery method that distinguishes one from the other. Poison is absorbed or ingested; a poisonous animal can only deliver toxic chemicals if another animal touches or eats it. Venom, on the other hand, is always injected. Every venomous animal has a mechanism to inject toxins directly into another animal. Stab with tails. Slash with spines. Pierce with fangs. Spike with spurs. Shoot with harpoons. Chew with teeth.

[from a page on www.fathom.com]
Venoms vs. Poisons:
Generally, a poison is a toxic substance that is distributed throughout the tissues of an animal's body. These animals lack any specific or localized apparatus for producing, storing or delivering poisons. Instead, the whole body, or large parts of it, is toxic. Typical poisonous animals are frogs, newts and jellyfishes. Contrary to poisons, venoms of animals are produced, stored and delivered by a very specific set of organs, and venoms are not distributed freely in other tissues of the animal body. Typical venomous animals are the venomous snakes, scorpions and cone shells.