We had a chance to explore the Daintree Rainforest while in Port Douglas. It is one of the places where the forest meets the reef, so we took the opportunity to go on a tour.
I’ve never been in a rainforest before. I’ve never been in a jungle before. Woods and swamps are about it in my experience. So I was unprepared for what I encountered.
Our guide was a lovely bloke who was around our age and into death metal. I appreciated that element of him, even if it’s not my kind of music. We had enough points of reference in each other’s field of interest that I found him approachable and an easy conversationalist.
I learned something very important about Australia from this tour. EVERYTHING THERE IS TRYING TO KILL YOU! From the deadly snakes, to the crocodiles, to the trees, to the drop bears, everything wants you dead.
They just might take a while to do it.
I’ve heard of strangler vines, especially in roleplaying games. I didn’t realize they were really real. These things crawl from one infected tree to another, dropping down from the foliage to find other tree trunks they can wrap around and murder. Eventually, the vines grow around the body of the original tree, smothering it and becoming a new tree in its place. We saw what this looked like, with a vine tree that, while it hadn’t completed the transformation, had so long ago killed its host that there was no evidence of what the original tree was. I stuck my head in it.
There was another plant whose leaves are covered in minute, hair-like, thorns. These things, upon penetrating the skin, inject a neurotoxin (because really, what doesn’t do that?) that causes extreme pain. What’s worse, the tiny things stay in your skin, working their way into your muscle and lymph system. Whenever you exercise or get overheated, more of the poison is released. Our guide said that the last time he’d been poisoned by one of those plants, it was four or five months before the poison completely worked itself clear of his system. Think about it, four or five months of burning pain everything you bathed or showered, every time you exercised. And there is no treatment for it.
We took a boat down a river in the forest, and learned about mangroves. Like most plants they can’t live in the salt water, so they have developed an interesting survival mechanism. They have ‘sacrificial leaves’ that soak up the salt from the water, turning yellow, and then dropping back into the river. Also, the roots of the tree needs oxygen so they send up ‘periscope’ roots…little curled roots reaching higher above the water line, desperate for breath.
However, what took the cake were the crocodiles. We saw several babies blending into the trees, but we saw their mother (3-4 meters long) and then a male that was around 5 meters long and sunning himself on a tree. I would not want to get anywhere near such a massive beast if I were on land!
The trip was full of information about how the ecosystem is balanced through its diversity. We also learned about the connection between the rainforest and the reef. For example, did you know that corals can protect themselves from heat and receiving too much sunlight? They release a gas (dimethyl sulphide, or DMS) into the air that literally causes clouds to form over them, protecting them from strong sunlight. I don’t know how long this process takes, I imagine it goes on for days. Regardless, the clouds eventually move inland, where they will eventually rain. Which leads to rain forests. The various bits of organic material that flows out to the ocean from all the rain then feeds the coral. Which continues the process.
So as the coral is threatened by our rapacious destruction of the environment, we also threaten the rain forests. Sure, they would survive awhile without the coral, but the climate would shift and eventually the rain forest may well die off.
I’ve gained a great deal of respect for both the diversity of nature and the endurance of people who live in those environments. Far more hard core than I.