The Great Barrier Reef
– Cairns, Australia –
As travelers our bucket list is one of our dearest belongings.
Often things like skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing a mountain and scuba diving are popular things at the top of these lists. Only ticking off one of these experiences is a dream come true for many of us, in July 2014 I got the opportunity to tick off something from my bucket list that I’ve wanted to do since forever- scuba diving The Great Barrier Reef.
This experience was part of my internship with Experience OZ , you can read more about it here.
Me and my three friends, along with our personal Experience OZ guide Clint had woken up long before sunrise, it was a rainy day but we were told many days start like this in Cairns but end up cloud free.
As we were walking to meet our diving instructor Heath from Down Under Cruise & Dive, covering our cameras from the rain under our jackets, the clouds started to scatter and a beautiful rainbow appeared on the sky. It was a good sign. As soon as we were on the boat, heading towards Norman Reef and Hastings Reef, the sky cleared and our rainy morning turned into a beautiful day full of sun.
I will tell you all about my amazing experience,
after highlighting something of importance to me.
Please continue reading below :).
Protecting our marine wonderland and its universal value.
According to a recent research study conducted by GBRMPA, approximately two million people visit the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) each year, which puts it at the top of the world’s most popular scuba destinations.
Although most of the tourism is managed in partnership with the marine tourism industry, and limited to only 7% of the Park’s area, there is a legitimate concern among the general public that tourism could be harmful to the Great Barrier Reef.
With so many people curious and interested in visiting the Great Barrier Reef it is without doubt an issue that needs to be raised. However, the damage on our coral reefs is not only caused by careless swimmers and unsustainable tourism, even though these definitely add to the damage and people need to pay more attention to their flippers and to where they place their anchors.
According to ICRI and GBRMPA, a lot of the damage is caused by climate change, overfishing and destructive fishing (fishing with dynamite), pollution (this includes oil leakage but also inland activities such as dumping plastic bottles and other waste materials in the ocean) and coastal development (people building things on top of the reefs).
Management of tourism in the Great Barrier Reef is geared towards making tourism ecologically sustainable so a daily fee is levied which goes towards research of the Great Barrier Reef. This fee ends up being 20% of the GBR Marine Park Act’s income.
Protecting the reef is not only going to benefit the marine life and its Eco system, but also 69 thousand people with jobs within the reef industry. According to WWF approximately $5,4 billion annually is contributed to the Australian economy from jobs within the reef industry, and that’s only in Australia.
So, it’s in our best interest to make sure we take care of our reefs and marine life for more than the obvious reason.
What can you do?
If you decide to visit the Great Barrier Reef, which I hope that you do because it’s a truly amazing experience and it gave me a broader understanding of what we have to do to protect our planet, just be gentle and thoughtful. Don’t mess around, and avoid relocating or moving any of the marine life.
This is an important thing to keep in mind especially when taking photographs.
Also, be careful not to chase or block the way of sea turtles (if you’re lucky to see some) or other animals.
Wherever you go in the world, be it a national park, the ocean, a tourist beach, New York City or the mountains.
Don’t leave your shit behind. If you’re a smoker, pick up your cigarette butts. Reuse your water bottles and fill them up if you can. Don’t throw things in the water and try to minimize your everyday usage of plastics, paper and food. Just simply pay attention to your behavior and make an effort to improve it, most things are general knowledge and just involves paying respect to other living creatures sharing this world with us. Yes, they’re sharing it with us… We’re not very good with sharing. Yet.
Until you’ve decided to literally save the planet, just save it from your own crap :).
I am not going to go into great detail regarding this subject because I do not believe I have enough information to hold a fair discussion. I do however think it is worth mentioning as I believe we all have to be cautious, responsible and thoughtful regarding our affect on our planet.
When diving with Down Under Cruise & Dive we got very informative instructions of how to act with respect towards the oceans creatures and were taught how to move across the reefs not to harm any corals or fish.
Learning the signs
After getting equipped with tanks, wet suits and blue flippers we wiggled like penguins down the edge of the boat. Before jumping in the water we made sure to give our goggles a good spit and smeared it out with our fingers to cover the whole glass, this to prevent the glass from fogging up and not only to be nasty :).
We lowered down into the ocean and practiced our diving signs with our instructor under the surface, learning the signs for clown fish, shark, ok and not ok. All to make sure we were prepared for any situations.
Even though there’s plenty of sharks who aren’t much more dangerous than a clown fish, I wouldn’t recognize a hungry shark from a friendly one, so I was hoping not to have to use the shark sign at all.
Reaching for the *poof*
As the ocean wrapped around my body and we were swimming further and further below the surface the water pressure got stronger. You might know the feeling of getting water pushed in your ears when diving the bathtub at home or lifting with an airplane, imagine tons and tons of it trying to push its way into your ears…
To equalize the pressure I had to keep blowing my pinched nose until hearing the clicking *poof* informing me my head was in level with the pressure of the water.
As we were down far enough we got let go to explore the reefs…
A feeling of stopping time.
I have never, in my life, experienced something as peaceful as scuba diving.
I swam around mesmerized by the color of the corals and was surrounded by the bluest water and curious fish from all directions, I wasn’t sure where to look first or to what direction to swim. I’m pretty sure I was just weightlessly hanging out in the same place the first minute or so, incapable of moving out of pure amazement.
All I could hear was the mechanical sound of my own breaths as air was traveling through the regulator to my mouth piece and into my lungs, and the rush of rising air bubbles as I was exhaling.
Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I think this is the closest I will ever get to stopping time.
The world is so calm below the surface, I was treated to an unexpected and absolutely stunning meditation session.
The Great Barrier Reef is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and over 1,500 fish species live in the reef together with sea turtles, sea cucumbers, sharks and dolphins. During our dives we got introduced to Christmas Tree Worms, Giant Clams, Clown Fish in all colors, Surgeon Fish and Sweetlip. All these animals names are a straight representation of their awesomeness. The Surgeon Fish, as an example, is named after his scalpel-like spine reaching down the sides of his tail which are dangerously sharp, and we’ve all heard about the funny Clown Fish!
“One of the contributing factors to the reef’s beauty which is simultaneously one of its greatest weaknesses to threats is the level of utter dependence each part of the ecosystem has on one another. That is to say, that if a single organism or species is affected or declines in number, it can have a huge ripple effect both down and up through the Great Barrier Reef’s food chain.”
– Great Barrier Reef Website“
My new friend, the leopard sea cucumber:
I got the opportunity to befriend my absolute favorite animal of the day; the Leopard Sea Cucumber.
These cucumbers are nothing like regular cucumbers, as to be expected i guess… But these guys are equipped with cuvierian tubules at their anus, which are ejected as sticky white threads when being handled or to capture food. It’s a great defense mechanism I must say, it made me lay him right back on his bed. It also left me with a great sticky memory on my hands for the rest of the day.
With The Great Barrier Reef being home to many vulnerable and endangered species it is important to pay great respect when diving and not to leave anything behind or damage the reef, animals and corals.
So even though you see lots of people holding marine life and playing around with sea turtles, it’s not something you should do. Even if I put the sea cucumber back with care, I have afterwards got informed I was not supposed to touch him at all.
This being my first scuba diving experience I was unaware that my touch could be affecting his peace, so even though it was an amazing experience and I absolutely fell in love with his soft little patchy body I wouldn’t do it again.
So if you get the chance to go scuba diving, try not to repeat my mistake and play the “look but not touch” game.
A heavenly ride:
As a surprise from the crew at Down Under Cruise & Dive I got sent up in a helicopter to experience the reef from above. As we were circulating over the corals, watching the dark blue ocean crash into the patched turquoise colored reef, we spotted some sea turtles hanging out around the edges of the reef. The boat where we had previously been diving from looked insignificantly small next to the size of the reef.
- The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world and located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
- It is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms and can be seen from space.
- The Great Barrier Reef has been named one of the seven natural wonders of the world along with Mount Everest, Victoria Falls and Grand Canyon… to name a few.
- Around 10 percent of the world’s total fish species can be found just within the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Great Barrier Reef is comprised of over 900 individual islands.
Have you been scuba diving?
What creatures did you meet??
Tell me in the comments! (If you met a sea turtle I’ll be SO jealous.)
Massive thanks to:
Experience OZ & Down Under Cruise & Dive
For giving me the experience of a lifetime and for making it a learning one.
For teaching me about the ocean and its creatures, and for taking such great care of us!
Angeliqa Jonsson, Angi Kim, Samui Reid & Heath Cuskelly.