Thursday, June 21, 2012

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef stretches the entires coast of Queensland on the northeast coast of Australia over 2600km in the Coral Sea, as the world's largest coral reef system. It is made up of over 2900 individual reef systems with over 400 species of coral. The reef can be seen from outer space. The reef is one of the seven wonders of the world and is also a world heritage site. I boarded the calypso vessel at 8:30 in the morning for the 1.5 hour journey (50km) off the coast of Port Douglas. We were to visit three reef sites to snorkel, the first being the Opal Reef. When we arrived at the reef the water was very choppy. I have snorkeled in both Thailand and Mexico but the water was much calmer so I thought it might be wise to wear a wet suit as well as a life jacket. I know I worked at a recreational facility for over 30 years but I am really only a beginner in the swimming area. I jumped into the water (very warm about 23 degrees) and was immediately concerned with my safety as the waves were going over my head and I was having difficulty catching my breath. I swam or more like splashed my way back to the boat as I had a tightness on my chest and was having trouble breathing - I could not tell if I was having a panic or asthma attack (of course I left my inhaler back at the resort). After sitting on the boat platform for a while I caught my breath and a staff member offered to swim out to the reef with me. I felt foolish needing this assistance but I was determined I was going to see the reef. The staff was great and patiently escorted me to the reef for a short snorkel and back to the boat. The experience was less than enjoyable as I was still having difficulty breathing and I was very disappointed in myself.

While on route to the next reef I felt the wet suit tight and constricting so I decided to take it off and try snorkeling without it. I did a lot of self talk on the short journey to the next reef - telling myself I was being silly and needed to get a gripe on myself. So when we arrived at the next site I told the staff I would like to try snorkeling without the wet suit (the wet suit helps with buoyancy but also protects you from stingers but since we are at the end of the stinger season I decided to take my chances). The water was still quite chopper but somewhat better than the first spot - so on goes the lifejacket and I jumped into the water. Much better- no anxiety, no difficultly breathing and I was off - I don't think the staff could believe their eyes. It was spectacular swimming around the reef the color of the coral is amazing yellow, purple, blue, green, seagrass beds - I saw parrot fish, giant clams and I even found Nemo! There are reef sharks that are apparently harmless but I did not encounter any. You might be interested to know the illegal shark fin industry removes over 100 million sharks are killed for their fins each year in this $1billion mostly illegal business - they cut the fin off and put the fish back into the water. The number of sharks have been reduced by 80 percent over the last 50 years.

I am so grateful to have this opportunity and It was absolutely the most amazing experience swimming up to the coral and watching the abundance of colorful fish feeding, I enjoyed every minute - in fact I was the last one back to the boat.

The third site I was first in the water and last to come out. This time I took an underwater camera Gaille's daughter loaned me. I got some amazing photos including some selfies but unfortunately I don't have a connection to download the pictures to my iPad but should be able to do this when I get back to Sydney and will be sure to post them on my blog. One thing I did not realize is how difficult it is to take pictures underwater because of the current it is hard to keep still and the dam fish don't stop swimming to have their portrait.

The Great Barrier Reef is definitely the best place I have ever snorkeled (Ana what we snorkeled in Thailand pales in comparison to this experience). Best of all this was another tick on my bucket item list!







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