Oh my goodness guys. I don’t even know what to say, other than I just got back from the most amazing day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. And I’m glowing.
IT WAS EVERYTHING I ALWAYS WANTED IT TO BE.
The coral was incredible. Every colour of the rainbow, and then the fish were big, and small, and also every colour. Fast and slow, in schools and in mating pairs.
Full disclosure-I have very few pictures to show you right now because they’re all on an underwater camera or a disk we bought, and I can’t upload them till I get back to my laptop. So use your imagination, and supplement with Google images for now 😉
Okay, so here’s the specifics. We picked the day trip Reef Experience, after doing a lot of reading and talking to the concierge here at the hotel. It was an all inclusive trip, for a really good price, and it was such a good choice! They picked us up bright and early right at the front door of the hotel, and brought us to the Carins Marina. We boarded the fast cat called Reef Experience, got handed out gear for the day, and after completing some disclaimer paperwork we were greeted with fresh fruit and breakfast sandwiches!
We went out to the Norman Reef, which is an outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef, and is approximately 60 km offshore. The Great Barrier Reef itself is over 2000 km long, consisting of over 2000 reefs (which is basically a coral ecosystem section). It is a World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. It took us an hour and a half cruising at a good clip to get out there. Along the way, we were treated to a variety of intro presentations. The safety briefing was actually hilarious, and made everyone feel very at ease, and definitely started the day on a good note “The emergency exit will be wherever you see water. And if you are afraid of heights and don’t want to jump, you will soon be surrounded by water anyways!”. The Australian sense of humour can be very sarcastic, it’s amazing. We also reviewed optimal use of snorkel gear. Next, we were treated to a briefing by a marine biologist named John, on the types of corals and fish we might encounter on the reef. This was really interesting, and helpful, since I always appreciate knowing what I’m looking at. Finally, we got an intro to the scuba equipment for those of us who would be doing an intro dive. I should clarify that an intro dive is a short dive with an instructor, where you don’t need your diving certification. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve never done one before.
With all of that information overload complete, we arrived at our first location! This one to be perfectly honest was a little disheartening in comparison to the Whitsundays. There was a big lop on the water, and a big current, and we were in the middle of the ocean. Literally. No land in sight. Unlike the sheltered cay sites we experienced in the Whitsundays. I snorkelled for about 40 mins, looking around at the corals and some small fish. The highlight was probably the parrotfish. They were so plentiful! Of every colour combination and size. When it was time for the scuba dive, we geared up, and it wasn’t half as scary as the first time! My breathing was a lot calmer. Unfortunately, I did have a little bit of a cold going since the sailing trip, so my ears were really stubborn to equalize, and it took away from the dive. I did see some anemones and clownfish, as well as these neat black and yellow striped ones which were possibly some sort of surgeonfish.
As we took a little rest, marine biologist John was recruiting folks for a glass bottom boat tour. I eagerly followed, and it was really neat! We seen a burgundy empress fish (I think that’s what its called), and she was really pretty. She kept hanging around the boat, really curious! We seen some male nemos, the males are actually way smaller than the females, and their adorable little anemones. We got to see some really beautiful hard corals, and green and purple soft corals. The hard ones are the ones that grow in all the shapes, right on top of the calcium carbonate. The soft ones are the more fern type ones, which can sometimes grow on the hard ones. We seen brain coral, and we actually got to see some healthy staghorn coral. And boulder coral, which only grows at a rate of 1cm per year, so the stuff I seen today was at least 1000 years old!! We also seen sea sponges, and columnar coral, and folacious coral which looks like lettuce.
On the topic of coral, the reason seeing healthy staghorn coral was such a privilege, is because this spiny coral is more susceptible than other corals to the water temperature. With global warming, as the water temperature rises, the zooxanthelle (think like little microbe thing, which kinda does a photosynthesis type thing and gives coral it’s colour) dies, and then the colour bleaches. Apparently the zooxanthelle can recover if the water temperature decreases again within 2 weeks of the bleaching event. This allows the coral to return from white to colourful, instead of progressing to brown. Good for surviving tropical storms, not global warming.
After that, it was time for lunch! This was chicken and salads. As we were eating, they asked who wanted to do a second dive. I wasn’t feeling up for it with my ears, but I was in luck, because right after, John came around to ask who wanted to do a guided snorkel. Once again, I was basically like “Me! Pick me!”, and anyways, it turned out to be just me! I got a personal, guided tour of the Great Barrier Reef, with a marine biologist! It was amazing! We were only supposed to be out 45 minutes, but we stayed out for well over an hour in search of a turtle.
Sadly, despite scouring the entire area surrounding the boat, we did not find a turtle. We did however see a whole bunch of other things! It totally made up for the first location. I seen more surgeonfish, one type was black and frilly, and the other was blue and yellow striped. They were fighting over territory. We seen a six striped angel fish, she was purple, with white stripes, and a decent size. There was these little electric blue ones, not sure what they were, but really pretty. I seen a Bloat! Ie a puffer fish!! I also got to see a Gill, a moorish idol. I completely freaked out when I seen that one, because I had seen lots of yellow and white similar shaped ones, but not a technically like that one, and was giving up hope. I seen a bunch of clown fish, did you know there’s actually like 6 species? I also seen a clam, which I kid you not, could have swallowed me right up. It was huge. I seen a couple blue/purple starfish, the first ones I’d seen. I was really privileged to see a stingray (it was a speckled back one). I also seen more really cool parrotfish, and a green trumpetfish. I seen some unicorn fish and a triggerfish (which apparently get really aggressive when they define their nests in November). Triggerfish are the only natural predator for the spiny starfish which is a bad starfish that is eating the reefs. I also seen a couple neat brown striped ones which are like small trout sized, and have flat bellies so they can basically lie on the corals. We seen cleaner wrasse, which are these little silver ones, which clean bigger fish like parrotfish. These are different than the ones that clean sharks and Dolphins, because they don’t actually live on the fish. Instead they set up cleaning stations and clean the fish as it feeds in their area. Like a drive thru car wash.
I also seen male and females of these other fish that I can’t remember what they’re called, but they were kinda like a trumpetfish, but smaller. The females were silver and orange, and the males were green and more colourful. They mate for life, and whatever they were, they were really pretty and shy!
I was just so completely enraptured with all this learning the whole day, I couldn’t wait to share it with you all. I hope you think it’s as cool as I do!
We finished the day with seriously awesome Indian food and Ferro Rocher gelato. Literally the dream day.