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Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour 2023

Are you in Year 11 this year and studying Stage 6 Biology? Are you passionate about science and nature? Would you like to learn more about coral reefs? These beautiful and intricate ecosystems are in a period of rapid change and provide an excellent case study for senior biology students.

If this sounds like you, we invite you to apply for one of 16 places on the Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour 2023, a 7-night trip to the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station. There, you will be guided by marine scientists to learn about coral reefs and marine research.

Two teachers of Stage 6 Biology are also invited to join the program. The trip will increase teachers’ knowledge of coral reef issues, inform their teaching practice and help them to obtain experiences and insights to share with their students into the future.

What is the program?

The Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour is an immersive, live-in educational experience in coral reef science on the Great Barrier Reef led by marine scientists.


The Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, an hour’s flight north of Cairns.


1 to 8 October 2023.


The study tour is for students in Year 11 who are studying Stage 6 Biology at any school in NSW in 2023, and to teachers of that subject. There are places for 16 students and 2 teachers.

How much?

The cost of this program is $3,200 per person ex Cairns. To that must be added the cost of getting to/from Cairns (estimated at $600 to $800 from NSW) and the cost of travel insurance which you will be required to take out if you are selected for participation. Several full and half scholarships are available for excellent students and inspirational teachers who are based at NSW Government schools, thanks to the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation.

How can I take part?

Application details are below. Selection is based on meeting eligibility criteria, a personal statement, letters of support, and for students, academic achievement in Year 10. Applications close on 12 May 2023. Successful applicants and parents of students must agree to terms and conditions, pay a deposit by 23 June and make full payment by 28 July.

About the program

Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) is a coral reef research facility that is owned and operated by the Australian Museum. The Research Station is situated at Lizard Island (Jiigurru) on the Great Barrier Reef, 270 km north of Cairns.

Researchers from all over the world come to LIRS to study various aspects of coral reefs. Their discoveries are published in scientific journals and the information is used by reef managers. Coral reefs are on the front line of climate change and much research effort is currently going into the effects of increasing temperature and ocean acidity and finding ways to mitigate them.

Education about reefs is also an important focus of LIRS. Individual schools and universities have been running educational programs at LIRS for decades for their own students. We are now able to offer the same experience to all Stage 6 Biology students and teachers in NSW through this Study Tour.

The initial Study Tour took place in 2022 and it was a great success. This opportunity gives students and teachers of Biology the chance to experience coral reef research and understand the issues facing coral reefs.

Coral reefs are much more complex than I had ever imagined. The evidence and the extent of damage to the reefs has awakened my awareness to the vulnerability of the marine environment. I have now realised that these environments have an incredible ability to recover, and I am intrigued about the recovery processes. Student participant in 2022

During this tour, I have not only acquired a vast array of knowledge on coral reef ecosystems, but I can use and apply the content to all facets of my teaching. Additionally, I have further developed practical skills in the field and have already begun to implement these into my teaching programs. This experience has changed me as a teacher. Teacher participant in 2022

The 2023 Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour will again be led by Dr Andy Lewis and Reef Ecotours. Dr Lewis is a marine scientist with many years’ experience leading student and research groups at Lizard Island and other locations. The daily program is diverse, involving snorkelling from boats, conducting field research, and classroom sessions covering coral reef biology topics to support the field experiences. There will be substantial input from the LIRS Directors, Dr Anne Hoggett and Dr Lyle Vail, who are marine scientists who have overseen research at LIRS for more than 30 years. The group will also interact with visiting scientists which will help provide a broad overview of coral reef science.

Program details

Participants will be living and working closely with others and excellent behaviour is required throughout the trip. All group members are expected to take part fully in the program while interacting with others in a polite and respectful manner. Rules will be explained on arrival and compliance is required. The rules include those that are expected at Australian high schools, those that relate to the remote location of Lizard Island, to the fact that the research station is an operating workplace, and to the specific activities that will be undertaken during the trip.

Participants must make their own travel arrangements between home and Cairns. We recommend taking an early flight out of Sydney to arrive in Cairns no later than midday to connect with a chartered flight to Lizard Island that will depart Cairns at about 2:00 pm. For the return trip, a chartered flight from Lizard to Cairns will be timed to connect with afternoon departures to Sydney.

People who live outside of Sydney may need to spend a night in Sydney or Cairns at each end of the trip to meet this timing. Any overnight stays by students, other than at Lizard Island, are the responsibility of parents.

On arrival at Cairns airport, participants must make their own way to the Hinterland Aviation terminal. That is at General Aviation, on the opposite side of the runway to the domestic terminal. It’s a 10-minute taxi or Uber ride costing about $20. On departure, the reverse procedure applies.

Participants will be met at the Hinterland Aviation terminal by Dr Andy Lewis and his staff for the flight to Lizard Island. The Australian Museum does not assume any duty of care for participants until they have joined Dr Lewis and his staff for commencement of the tour.

The group will board two light aircraft for the hour-long flight north to Lizard Island over the dazzling Great Barrier Reef. Research station vehicles will meet the group at the airstrip for the 10-minute trip across the island on a rough, sandy track.

Baggage is strictly limited to 20 kg per person including cabin baggage. The Australian Museum is not responsible for loss or damage to personal property during transit or at the research station.

The group will occupy two adjacent 3-bedroom houses. Two bedrooms in each house will be occupied by students (8 people) and the third by adults (2 or 3 people). Four students of the same gender will share a room. Teacher participants will share a room with each other and/or Reef Ecotours staff of the same gender. Each house has two bathrooms and a well-equipped kitchen.

Reef Ecotours will prepare menus and order food from Cairns for delivery to the island by barge prior to the group’s arrival. Any food intolerances will need to be advised in advance so that they can be catered for. Everyone in the group will be rostered to contribute to cooking, washing up and doing other household tasks.

There are no medical facilities at Lizard Island. All LIRS and Reef Ecotours staff are highly trained first aiders and LIRS has advanced first aid equipment on site. The Royal Flying Doctor Service can provide phone consultations and emergency medical evacuations.

All participants will be required to advise any medical conditions that may impact their ability to snorkel safely and to provide information about any medications that are taken regularly or carried routinely in case of need. The Australian Museum may ask participants to complete a risk and physical capability assessment and medical plan which will require disclosure of personal health information.

A certain level of physical ability is required to take part in this trip due to its remote location and the nature of the activities. All participants must be able to swim at least 100 metres in a pool without aids comfortably, float on their back, and tread water for at least five minutes. For students, swimming ability must be verified in writing by a parent, guardian, or suitable representative of the school such as a physical education teacher. Participants must also be capable of getting in and out of small boats and light aircraft, climbing stairs, and walking on soft sand. For the safety of each participant, the Australian Museum reserves the right to determine at its discretion as to whether it will accept any participant after conducting its health and medical risk assessment.

Safety is of paramount importance at LIRS. LIRS has an excellent safety record with well-developed procedures in place for boating and snorkelling that are based on thorough risk assessment. Importantly, it is a small, well-run community of scientists with a kind and caring ethos. Reef Ecotours staff have Queensland Blue Cards for working with children.

The only mobile carrier to reach the island is Telstra and that is only accessible in a small area close to a booster antenna at LIRS. Students who have Telstra as their provider can use their own device for phone and internet access. Others can use the office phone if needed. Wifi access for educational purposes will be provided for use on personal devices and there is a single desktop computer available for the group to share.

The trip has a very full timetable. Families should not expect to be contacted by participants routinely and we ask families not to contact LIRS except for emergencies. LIRS will have emergency contact details for each participant and will call in the event of injury, incident or illness.

A list of clothing and equipment required for the trip will be provided prior to the trip. It is not extensive.

Snorkelling equipment will be provided at LIRS including lycra suits for sun protection, wetsuits if needed, and masks, snorkels and fins. The hire cost is included in the fee.

The cost of the trip is estimated at about $4,000 per person. Of that, $3,200 is paid to LIRS to cover air travel between Cairns and Lizard Island, accommodation at Lizard Island, tuition, food, and use of snorkelling gear. The only additional costs are travel between home and Cairns (use $600 to $800 as a guide), and your own travel insurance (use $100 to $200 as a guide).

Several scholarships are available to cover some or all of these costs, thanks to support from the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation and its donors. These awards are only available to students and teachers who are at NSW Government schools. Full scholarships will be offered to the most highly-ranked student and teacher applicants who meet all eligibility criteria. Half scholarships will be offered to the next tier of eligible applicants.

Fri 12 May

Applications close

  • Applicants from NSW Government schools will automatically be considered for several half- and full-scholarship places.

Fri 26 May

First-round offers made and scholarship results announced

  • Successful applicants receive first-round offers, including all scholarship winners.
  • Eligible applicants from NSW Government schools receive notification of whether they were awarded a scholarship or not.
  • All other applicants receive notification of whether they are on the waitlist for second round offers or not.
  • An invoice for the deposit will be sent to all successful applicants (except winners of full scholarships), with terms and conditions.

Fri 23 Jun

50% deposit and acceptance of terms and conditions due

  • First-round offers must be confirmed by acceptance of the terms and conditions in writing by teacher participants and by parents of student participants and, for all except full-scholarship holders, payment of a 50% deposit.
  • The deposit amount is $1,600 for full paying places and $800 for half-scholarship holders.
  • First-round offers lapse if the deposit/acceptance is not paid/received by this date.

Mon 26 Jun

Second-round offers made

  • Second-round offers will only be made if one or more first-round places have not been confirmed by 23 June (as above).
  • An invoice for the deposit will be sent (as for first-round offers, above).
  • Payment of the deposit and acceptance of the terms and conditions is due within 7 days.
  • Second-round offers lapse if the deposit/acceptance is not paid/received in that timeframe.

Wed 19 Jul

Information meeting

  • A Zoom meeting will be set up to allow participants, their families and key personnel involved with the trip to meet and ask questions.

Wed 26 Jul

Final payment due

  • Final payment is $1,600 for full paying places and $800 for half-scholarship holders.
  • Participants must have booked their own travel between home and Cairns and forwarded the details to LIRS.
  • If final payment is not made by the due date, your place on the trip is cancelled and your deposit will be handled according to the terms and conditions.

Sun 1 Oct

Trip begins

  • Arrive in Cairns by midday.
  • Take a taxi/Uber from domestic terminal to Hinterland Aviation where you will meet trip leader Dr Andy Lewis.
  • Water and tea/coffee are available at the Hinterland terminal but there are no food outlets. It’s a good idea to buy a takeaway sandwich at the domestic terminal to eat at Hinterland while waiting for the next flight, which will take off at about 2:00 pm.
  • Remember that the baggage limit is 20 kg per person, including all cabin baggage.
  • Arrive at Lizard Island at about 3:00 pm, transfer to LIRS by 4WD.
  • Settle into accommodation: four students per room, teachers sharing two rooms with Reef Ecotours staff.
  • Welcome and orientation session with LIRS Director, Dr Anne Hoggett, and trip leader, Dr Andy Lewis.
  • Sunset swim and beach barbecue.

Next days

Activities on the trip

  • A normal day will include lectures, field activities involving boating and snorkelling at locations around Lizard Island, and discussions with visiting researchers.
  • Meals are prepared by the group on roster.
  • Special events will include a large-boat trip to an outer reef at the edge of the continental shelf about 20 km from Lizard Island, and a hike to the island’s peak, Cook’s Look.

Sat 7 Oct

Report and evaluation due

  • Teacher participants to coordinate and submit to LIRS a report with photos about the group’s experiences, to which all participants have contributed. Guidelines will be provided.
  • All participants to complete an online evaluation form about the program, which can be submitted anonymously.
  • Final beach barbecue with all LIRS residents.

Sun 8 Oct

Final day of trip

  • Undertake the departure day chores that are required of all LIRS visitors.
  • Depart LIRS for Cairns and travel through to Sydney, arriving late on the same day.
  • Parents are responsible for students’ arrangements after arrival at Hinterland Aviation in Cairns.

After the trip

  • Additional feedback from participants may be sought to inform the development of future programs.
  • Some participants may be invited to become involved in additional activities to promote the work of the LIRRF.

How do the scholarships work?

Scholarships support high-achieving Biology students and teachers at NSW Government schools. They are awarded competitively, with full scholarships going to the most highly-ranked eligible applicants and half scholarships going to those in the next tier, according to the Selection criteria (below).

If you are awarded a full scholarship, the trip will not cost you anything.

If you are awarded a half scholarship, you will need to book and pay for your own travel between home and Cairns (estimated at $600 to $800 return), arrange your own travel insurance, and pay $1,300 to LIRS. Overall, the trip will cost you about $2,000 instead of $4,000 for a full fee-paying place.

What do I need to do before starting the online application process?

Firstly, think about how you would pay for the trip. Scholarships are only available for students and teachers at NSW Government schools, and only some of those applicants will be successful in getting one.

Then, think about whether you are up to the challenges of the trip. Not everyone is! They include travelling interstate alone, flying on a light aircraft, living in close quarters with a group of strangers for a week, snorkelling from boats (sometimes in choppy conditions), and contributing to group work.

Finally, follow the How to Apply instructions carefully (below). You’ll need to prepare a persuasive personal statement (written or video) to convince us that you will make good use of the opportunity. Students must also provide two letters of support, one from school and the other from a parent or guardian. Teachers must provide a letter of support from the school. These things take time.

When all these documents are ready, it’s time to complete the Application Form which won’t take long.

I don’t live in Sydney and would need spend a night there at one or both ends of the trip. What should I do?

That is up to your family to arrange. If you don’t have family or friends to stay with in Sydney, we might be able to put you in touch with the family of a Sydney-based participant who would host you for those nights. Any such arrangements are entirely between the two families concerned.

What documents do I need for air travel?

At check-in, you will need a form of identification that bears your photo and signature, such as a secondary student ID card, passport, or learner driver permit. If you don’t already have a suitable document, apply for one well ahead of the trip. Students will be responsible for the safety of their photo ID during the trip.

I’ve never snorkelled before. Is that a problem?

If you’re a good swimmer, you will learn to snorkel quickly with the help of the course instructors. LIRS has good quality gear for you and people who will help to fit it properly. If you’re not a good swimmer, you will probably have difficulty and that is why we require a certain level of ability to take part in this trip. Being a “good swimmer” in this context is not about winning races. See Eligibilty (below) for a guide to what is required.

Where do I find more information about Lizard Island Research Station and the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation?

Go to https://australianmuseum.net.au/get-involved/amri/lirs/ and https://lirrf.org

Application details

All applicants must meet eligibility criteria 1 and 2.

Eligibility criterion 1: Current status

  • Students must be enrolled in Year 11 in 2023 at any school in NSW and studying Stage 6 Biology
  • Teachers must be teaching Stage 6 Biology in 2023 at any NSW school.
  • If the school does not offer Biology, applicants must be studying or teaching another Stage 6 Science subject in 2023 at any NSW school.

Eligibility criterion 2: Swimming and physical abilities

The trip is physical in nature and all participants must be able to take part safely in water and other field activities. As such, they need a certain level of physical ability and skills. As a guide, all participants should be able to:

  • swim 100 metres in a pool without aids at your own pace;
  • float on your back and tread water for at least 5 minutes with ease, so that you feel comfortable in water that is deeper than you are tall; and
  • walk on soft sand, climb stairs, get in and out of light aircraft and small boats.

Applicants who also meet criterion 3 are eligible for a scholarship.

Eligibility criterion 3: School in 2023

Student and teacher applicants who meet eligibility criteria 1 and 2 and who are studying or teaching at a NSW Government school in 2023 are automatically considered for a scholarship.

Applications will be assessed using the following criteria and marking weights:

Application is submitted in the required format (10%)

For example, the online application form is completed correctly, all documents meet stated guidelines and are uploaded correctly (see How to Apply).

Personal submission (video or written) makes a strong case for the applicant’s inclusion (50%)

For example, applicant clearly demonstrates their interests and motivations. We are looking for good communicators and thinkers who will be able to use this experience to benefit coral reef conservation into the future.

Supporting letters demonstrate that the applicant has qualities that are relevant to the opportunity (40%).

For students, the level of academic achievement accounts for half of that 40%.

Personal submission

Students - tell us why you want to come on the trip and how it could benefit your studies, your future career and the wider world.

Teachers - tell us why you want to come on the trip and how it could benefit your teaching practice and support student learning.

Your personal submission can be in one of two formats: either i) a 1- to 2-minute video that features you, or ii) a 2- to 4-page written statement that may include photos or other images. While good presentation is encouraged, you will be judged on how well you communicate those things rather than on slick production values or artistic skill. Make sure you address the eligibility and selection criteria and read the conditions.

Videos must be uploaded to Vimeo and you must provide the link to it in the online application form. It is your responsibility to ensure that the link works. High resolution MP4 is preferred for Vimeo uploads. If you wish to password protect your video, please use the password LizardIsland2023. Please record a minimum of 5 seconds of black before the start and after the end of your program. These 10 seconds are not included in your time limit.

Read Conditions of application (below) carefully for additional information about preparing your personal submission.

Letter of support from school

Students - provide a letter of support from your Science teacher or Head of Science which is endorsed by the Principal.

It should outline your academic achievements (including Year 10 results if possible), your relevant interests, and an opinion on your suitability for a live-in, field-based program. It must confirm that you are enrolled in Year 11 in 2023 and that you are studying Stage 6 Biology. The requirement for Stage 6 Biology will only be waived if the subject is not available at your school and if you are studying another Stage 6 science subject. In that case, the letter should state that fact and note which other Stage 6 science subject you are studying this year.

Teachers - provide a letter of support from your Head of Science or the Principal. If the letter is from the Head of Science, it must be endorsed by the Principal.

Letter of support from parent/guardian

Students - provide a letter of support from your parent(s) or guardian.

It should include an assessment of your swimming ability, your comfort level in the water, your ability to travel unaccompanied, and your ability to behave responsibly away from home while contributing to group work (scientific and household).

Application form

Students and teachers – when all relevant documents are ready, complete the online application form. The documents will be uploaded through that form.

Closing date

5 pm AEST Friday 12 May 2023.

Please note, as there are still some places left for teachers, and male students, applications have been extended until Friday 16 June 2023.

This opportunity is open to Year 11 students and teachers at any school in NSW who are studying or teaching Stage 6 Biology in 2023. It is open to students and teachers of other science subjects only if Stage 6 Biology is not offered at their school. In this case, the school must provide evidence that the subject is not available and the student must demonstrate their interest in biology.

Each school may support a maximum of two applications. If more than two people at the same school wish to apply, the school must determine the most suitable candidates.

All participants must be comfortable in the water and capable of moderate physical activity. They must be able to: swim at least 100 metres in a pool at their own pace without aids; float on their back; tread water for at least five minutes comfortably; and walk on soft sand and climb stairs without difficulty. For students, that must be verified in writing by their parents.

Video applications should be no less than one minute and no longer than two minutes in length, including any titles and credits. Judges will only consider the first two minutes of an entry that exceeds the time limit.

Written applications should be no less than two A4 pages and no more than four A4 pages including any images. Margins must be at least 1.5 cm all round and font must be 12 pt Calibri or 12 pt Times New Roman. Judges will reject applications that do not meet font and margin requirements and will only consider the first four pages of an entry that exceeds the page limit.

Copyright considerations are the responsibility of the entrant. All sources of information, including any illustrations and music, should be clearly referenced, acknowledged and/or credited.

The online application form must be submitted no later than 5pm AEST Friday 12 May 2023.

Applications submitted after that time will not be considered. Applications containing a video link in which the video link does not work will not be considered.

If you experience issues in uploading your application or have concerns about what has been uploaded, you must contact the Director, Lizard Island Research Station on (07) 4060 3977 or email lizard@australian.museum before the close of applications. Applications cannot be added or modified after the close of applications under any circumstances.

The deliberations of the selection panel remain confidential. All recommendations and decisions taken are binding and final and no correspondence will be entered into on such matters.

Information provided by applicants in relation to the Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour 2023 (including photos and video), may be used by the Australian Museum and/or the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation for promotional/publicity purposes. This may include, and is not restricted to, the information being used on websites, social media, printed material, advertisements, press releases etc. and given to the media.

Before the end of the trip, participants are required to contribute to a joint report on their experience. That report must be coordinated by the two teacher participants and include short individual reflections by each participant. An online evaluation form must also be completed by each participant before departure from Lizard Island.

Additional feedback from participants may be sought to inform the development of future programs. Some participants may be asked to be involved in additional activities to promote the work of the LIRRF and the Australian Museum.

Personal information provided to the Australian Museum for the Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour can be used by the Australian Museum and the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation. Such use will only be in connection with the Lizard Island Coral Reef Study Tour.

No applications will be received or considered after the close of applications.

Failure to meet all conditions of entry will automatically disqualify an entry.