Monday, July 25, 2011

The Great Barrier Reef

This is Part I of a 5 part post about a trip to Queensland and the Top End.

Ethan’s mother came for a visit and wanted to travel around Australia, so we joined her on a trip to Cairns, and then on to Darwin. She continued on from there to Wyndham, to do some charitable work, while we returned to Sydney.

Cairns, our first stop, is the largest city close to the Great Barrier Reef. Of course that is a “must do” on the Australia visit, so we booked a snorkel tour and went out. The Great Barrier Reef is about 2 hours away from the mainland by boat, so tours are essential. I was surprised to find out that the water was actually pretty cold, so I hired a wetsuit to wear in the water. I was really glad, because it allowed me to stay in the water the whole time.

Over 60,000 birds live on Michaelmas Cay
Our first stop was Michaelmas Cay, where we had some fairly sheltered snorkeling. The tides were really low, so at times you were snorkeling through the reef! It looked like an underwater forest, with the coral “trees” swaying gently with the waves, like they were blowing in the wind. The colors were fantastic. I saw a cobalt blue Christmas tree worm dive back inside the coral as I swam by, and the giant clams had black lips highlighted by royal purple or sometimes fluorescent green splotches. I didn’t see the turtle who was supposedly hanging around, but I did get to see a stingray glide by.

Feeding the fish

Next, we had lunch, and there was a brief fishfeed. The large dark fish in this photo looks like a shark, but it’s not. I can’t remember the names of any of those fish, though.

Then we headed out to a deeper part of the reef, where it was a bit different. I was a little intimidated by the waves, but once I got in the water, I barely noticed them. This part of the reef had a lot more fish, and some really giant corals. I remember swimming by one giant brain coral several times. I swam through schools of hundreds of little fish, and even saw some giant parrot fish eating the coral. I also saw some clown fish hiding in an anemone! Did you know you can hear the parrot fish scraping away at the coral underwater? It sounds a bit like a visit to the dentist.

Sailing home

On the way home, we saw some humpback whales diving off to the side. Then the boat put up the sails and we sailed home. I could have done without that, because it was a lot more vertically mobile and I felt a bit sick. But a lot of the other passengers loved it.

My one regret with the snorkeling tour is that I didn’t hire an underwater camera. It’s just as well, though, I would probably have missed things if I were too busy messing with the camera!

The Great Barrier Reef was one of my highlights from our time living in Australia. Those who have been there in the past say that it’s nothing like it was even 20 years ago. I can’t imagine how awesome it was back then, but I’m glad I got to see it now before it loses most of its beauty.


Anonymous said...

it *is* surprising that the water would be that cold. It's winter there I guess, but is that much of an effect at that latitude? Must be within the tropics there.

I guess you never know with ocean currents. Look what happens with England and Europe with the Gulf Stream.

Uncle Carl

L said...

Well, it was about 73 degrees, which was about air temperature. It doesn't vary too much through out the year -- I think it gets to about 85 at the max, but it was about the coldest it ever gets at that time.

I think part of it is that when you're snorkeling, you're just floating around in the water. You don't swim hard (or else you miss stuff), and you want to stay in for a while to see stuff. So the wetsuit allows for that.