Australia’s Great Lakes Part IV: An Aerial View and Interviewing Dr. Stock

By Nic Stoltzfus

Day Four: Sunday, August 24th


Newcastle Helicopter's Robinson R44 Helicopter.

Newcastle Helicopter’s Robinson R44 Helicopter.

Sunday we headed back to Nelson Bay for a final attempt to fly the helicopter over the lake. When we arrived that morning it was still too cloudy, but John the pilot told us that in several hours it was forecast to be clear and sunny. During the wait, Dad, Errol, and I drove down to the bayside of Nelson Bay and sat down on a park bench overlooking the fog-shrouded sea. Elam and I set up our camera equipment to interview Dr. Errol Stock.


As soon as the camera began rolling, Dr. Stock’s eyes lit up and I knew it was going to be a fun interview. He was so descriptive about the dune lakes and he found a way to make geology sound poetic:


“What we’ve just seen here at the Myall Lakes, some of these lakes have a history going back to 120,000 years. You have the potential for prevailing wind directions moving the sediment along the shore, shaping little moon-shaped bays, maybe even cementing lakes. And the potential then for wonderful complexity is right on your doorstep.”


He reminded me of a blend between a wizened Zen monk and an old-school college professor. A twinkle in his eye, he didn’t spout inscrutable koans but, rather, lucid explanations about the Earth and its geology. An astute man with a researcher’s thoroughness, he answered every question with thoughtful deliberation—and a poet’s flourish.


“When you do research you usually have to write it up and record it and share it with students or with colleagues or whatever. That is an important part of it. We’ve already established that. But there is this emotional experience, “Ah, yes, lovely. Sand, water, weather, rain.” And it’s essentially part of the reward of being alive and enjoying it all at the same time. But because of my scientific interest it enhances what I see and do. I can ask the kind of questions that other people might not ask and that’s okay, but it’s good for me. Excitement. Pleasure.”


His words corroborated with what I learned from Dr. Kjerfve: sometimes coastal dune lakes around the world are also called coastal lagoons, and that “the scientific fraternity would probably put them all under the term “lagoons” simply because of the way that the study has developed from different parts of the world.”


He talked about the Ramsar designation (the name comes from Ramsar, Iran—where the designation was approved by the United Nations); the full title is “The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.” Dr. Stock gave us more information on this demarcation and its meaning.


“Ramsar is essentially a worldwide registration of wetlands of importance and it’s an inventory which has some management implications to the states and to the national organizations concerned to protect them.”


There are over 2,000 Ramsar Sites worldwide and the UK claims the most with 170 sites.


In Australia, Myall Lake is designated as a wetland of international importance. In Florida, sites listed under the Ramsar designation include Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Everglades National Park, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It seems to me that the coastal dune lakes in Florida would fit well as a Ramsar Site, right?


By the time we finished the interview with Dr. Stock, the sky had cleared and the day turned into a beautiful winter afternoon. We drove back to the helipad, John prepped the Robinson 44 helicopter, removed the doors in order for Dad and me to take pictures, and buzzed off.


It was amazing seeing it from the air—the scale is much larger, vaster than the lakes in Florida. About a month prior, I did an aerial of the dune lakes in Florida and the whole area is flat. As we chopped over, I fully recognized the difference in landscape. Large piles of dunes, heroic mountains; the lakes seemed to disappear on the horizon.

The town of Tea Gardens along the Myall River and Port Stephens.

The town of Tea Gardens along the Myall River and Port Stephens.


An aerial view of Myall Lake.

An aerial view of Myall Lake.

After we flew over Smiths Lake, we turned back to Nelson Bay. We landed, thanked John, and began the drive to Boolambayte. Dad and I dropped Errol off at the bus station as he was going to Brisbane. We would meet back up with him in five days to stay the night before flying home. After dropping him off, we made our way home through the dark.

Read what happens next at Australia’s Great Lakes Part V: Myall Lake National Park and Smiths Lake Sandbar.

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