As I’d said previously, the main reason I came to this part of the country was to see the Great Barrier Reef! Once we got here, it turns out that Eric doesn’t like boats and thus didn’t want to go along! He instead took a side trip to Mossman Gorge, which he talks about in his post here.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral system in the world, and is about the size of the country of Japan! It is constantly under threat from pollution, tourists (like me), overfishing and most importantly, climate change. This year there were headlines all over the world about another possible mass bleaching event due to warmer than usual ocean temperatures. Coral bleaching is when the coral, due to stress, expel the algae that lives within it and with which it has a symbiotic relationship. While bleached coral isn’t dead, it’s more vulnerable and may not recover. I was worried about heading out to the reef only to see massive fields of bone-white coral, but that thankfully wasn’t the case.
The kids and I boarded a boat and headed out. The wind speed was 20 knots or so which means nothing to me other than that the ride out felt like a roller coaster! None of us got seasick, thankfully. On the way out, we saw 2 humpback whales breaching off to the right! So amazing to think of these large creatures making their way in the ocean so close to us. It’s one of the things I love about snorkeling so much – on the surface all you see is brownish water, and the minute you put your head underneath an entire hidden world opens up to you. I’ve gone scuba diving once and loved that too, but you have to be 12 for that so it wasn’t an option this time.
We snorkeled at 3 different sites on Opal Reef. The boy did fine but the girl had some difficulty with her gear for the first dive, and kept stopping and yelling to me, “I’m having a very salty experience!!” She ended her snorkel session a bit early, which I have to tell you was fine by me since it meant I could really enjoy the rest of it. Parents, you know how it is – you can’t always fully pay attention to whatever it is you’re there to see if half your attention is on making sure your kid is okay and not, oh, drowning in the Pacific Ocean. It was beautiful underwater. There were bright parrotfish, sunfish and some little iridescent blue fish that swum about in waves. I saw giant clams, clownfish, and sea cucumbers!
The coral, well, it wasn’t all that brightly colored to tell you the truth. Not bleached, but not brilliant. One of the tour operators gave a talk on this later – as it turns out, the bright colors we’re used to seeing in pictures are obtained by using a strobe flash and can’t be seen by the naked eye, especially on a cloudy day. If you can see bright colors underwater, that is bad and a sign of stressed coral. All the coral we saw were largely healthy shades of pale orange, pink, green and brown. I’ve read some reviews of other snorkel sites that say the coral is very bleached, and I wonder if it’s because they wrongly think, as I did, that we should be seeing luminous colors underwater.
The second dive site was also pretty. I gave my underwater camera to the girl so she’d be more into it given her tough time the first dive… And then all of a sudden I looked down and saw one of the batteries fall out and sink to the bottom of the ocean. The camera flooded with water as did the SD card, and all the pictures I took on my first dive were lost. Sigh. I began to be frustrated by this, but then realized that I could either focus on the frustration of the loss of the camera or let it go and enjoy myself, and I had to choose the latter. Which means, dear readers, no pictures from this outing!
By the third dive, the girl had gotten the hang of things and the sun came out and we could really see more colors of the coral! I had really wanted to see a reef shark or a turtle, but none were to be found this day. I stayed in the water as long as I possibly could, to just feel like a fish for one day and see them darting through the coral. We rode home, briny, happy and tired.