MWM students visit Cairns for second semester learning intensive

MWM students visit Cairns for second semester learning intensive

Candidates for the 2017 Master of Integrated Water Management (MIWM) Program visited Cairns in July as part of the Catchment and Aquatic Ecosystem Health module with Griffith University and IWC course lecturer Dr Wade Hadwen. IWC Education Director Dr Brian McIntosh reflects on the trip and student learning outcomes.

MWM students visit Cairns for second semester learning intensive

The MIWM’ers at Green Island on day 1

Cairns. Winter. Warm. Not that we direct our learning entirely by climatic conditions but boy was it good to not be shivering early in the morning.

Every year one of the highlights of the MIWM is the 9-day learning intensive that we run as a major field trip. For the first time this year the learning intensive was run in Cairns situated in the Wet Tropics region of northern Queensland and famously adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. We have changed locations from previous intensives run in Albany (south-west of Western Australia) and Gladstone (central Queensland), to keep the learning fresh and in the context of significant contemporary water management issues, and yes, arguably and subconsciously we have been directing the intensive towards warmer winter climates. Maybe it is possible to have your cake (great learning) and eat it (great climate)!

The bulk of the intensive is spent on the delivery of WATR7100 – our Catchment and Aquatic Ecosystem Health module. The focus of the module is on learning about how to measure, monitor and manage aquatic ecosystem health in the context of catchments (or river basins as some folk call them). This year being in Cairns we used the context of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as a focus for our learning. Starting out on a fringing reef on Green Island students learned about the processes and difficulties of a rapid reef assessment and about how data on reef conditions is gathered, partly through citizen science efforts. This involved a fair bit of snorkelling so we had a lot of fun. We asked questions, got some answers and raised more questions about the extent to which, how and why the GBR is being impacted – by climate change, by tourism and by land use and land management practices. How to untangle such a complex web of influences? And what to do about it assuming we want to protect the GBR from degradation.

We then focused our learning on the perspectives and knowledge of different organisations and people about how the impacts from land use and land management are being understood and managed. We heard from the State Government, local academics, wet tropics natural resource management (NRM) groups working to protect waterways and change farming practices, an Indigenous land management group and from farmers themselves – involved in the agricultural production of banana and lime crops through to sugar cane and dairy. A rare opportunity to get out of the city and into the landscapes of the catchments feeding into the GBR lagoon, to see first-hand what is being done in terms of land use and management practices and to listen to and understand the lives and livelihoods of those who work the land to produce food crops.

Integrated water management, if nothing else, is about listening, learning from and taking into account other perspectives, about acting collaboratively to improve complex and messy situations.

The module finished after 6 days when we had a well-earned day off. Some people went to the Daintree Rainforest, some up to Queensland’s highest mountain Bartle Frere, and others visited a major Indigenous art exhibition and took it easy in downtown Cairns. It was a wonderful opportunity for students to take in what Tropical North Queensland has to offer.

We then moved into the problem-based learning component of the intensive where students learned how to conduct qualitative research through carrying out interviews with key stakeholders and to analyse interview data using a simple but robust technique called thematic analysis. This training enabled 11 student teams to go out into the catchments and interview farmers and NRM groups to gather data to enable them to understand the extent to which the way the Reef Water Quality Plan 2015 is being effectively communicated, disseminated and turned into land use and management practice change on the ground, why and why not. Interviews were carried out with sugar cane farmers, horticulturalists, dairy farmers and beef graziers across the Atherton Tablelands and down near the coast to provide a rich and extensive data set that the students have returned from Cairns to now analyse.

So perhaps the warmth and wonder of Cairns and the Reef was just the easy part …

The MIWM Program

Using problem-based and experiential learning, the MIWM is designed to build future water leaders – integrated water management professionals able to collaborate, create and deliver innovative approaches to complex water management challenges.

For more information about the field trip or about IWC’s Master of Integrated Water Management, contact:

MIWM International Scholarships

Scholarships are now open to international candidates interested in joining the International WaterCentre for the Master of Integrated Water Management in 2018. Applications close 1 August 2017.
Cairns_2017_1  Cairns_2017_2  Cairns_2017_3  Cairns_2017_4

Photos courtesy of Dr Wade Hadwen

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