Exploring the Great Barrier Reef
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef has been near the top of my Bucket List for a long time. It is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. According to GreatBarrierReef.org it is comprised of over 900 islands, spanning 133,000 square miles... making it larger than the Great Wall of China... or about half the size of Texas. The Great Barrier Reef is so big it can even be viewed from outer space! The Great Barrier Reef is ancient... perhaps 20 million years old. Today, a whole host of modern medicines are being developed from its plants and animals - Medicines to treat cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimers, etc. Countless communities depend upon the Great Barrier Reef for economic reasons. Tourism to the reef generates billions of dollars a year. Of course the actual fish provide food and livelihoods for residents as well. More than 1,500 fish species call the Great Barrier Reef home. About 10% of the globe's total fish species can be found within its boundaries.
It is easy to see why the Great Barrier Reef is considered a Natural Wonder! I can't believe I just crossed it off my Bucket List.... Tick!! I hope you enjoy my pictures, videos, and thoughts from this awesome adventure.
This trip in August feels like perfect timing. I have been reveling in the sunshine, thawing out from a Sydney winter. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, it is of course chilly right now where I live... But.... Not in Tropical Queensland! Wahoooo! My Aussie husband and I opted to take a 3 hour flight from Sydney to Cairns and make a long weekend out of our expedition. On Saturday morning we took about a 1.5 hour cruise out to the reef with a group I booked through TripAdvisor called Down Under Cruise and Dive. As usual, the crew picked two separate reef locations based on our day's conditions to give us the best experience possible. As luck would have it, we only had a few hours of sunshine, then cloud cover, followed by a bit of rain.
Despite the less than perfect conditions, the adventure was amazing. From the whales we saw breaching on the way to our first location... to the magnificent coral and fish... to the glass semi-submerged boat ride... to the helicopter ride we paid a little extra for to get a better idea of the size and scope of the reef... to the live music and games on the cruiser... to the provided lunch of tasty prawns, steak, white fish, and roasted veggies! I definitely recommend seeing the Great Barrier Reef by being part of a group like this one I booked through TripAdvisor.
If you're interested in hearing a bit more about my experience... Here goes... Swimming along the Great Barrier Reef was such an inspiring and eye opening adventure. Upon arriving to our first dive/snorkel location, the moment my mask hit the water, I saw some beautiful creatures. The idyllic images are in my mind right now. Splendid to literally swim amongst schools of fish. Neon pinks, yellows, greens, blues, and purples. Wow! But I also saw and heard some things that make me want to encourage you to go see the Great Barrier Reef too... ASAP! Upon booking the trip, virtually every Aussie I mentioned it to would say, "You better see it while you can. The Great Barrier Reef is disappearing. It's not what it used to be." These thoughts were echoed by several crew members during our tour.
Many of the brilliant images you see in this post were given to me by the Calypso photographers snapping pics on deck and below the water. They are samples from the top 100 in their library. The fish and coral are typically seen in this region, but it would be nearly impossible to see all of it in one day. I saw some jaw dropping beauty out there (not these exact images). And as I mentioned above, I saw quite a bit of coral bleaching, which was definitely not beautiful to look at.
I saw loads of coral that had lost its color. It's a phenomenon you're likely familiar with called coral bleaching. According to NOAA, 'When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.'
I imagine you've probably heard a lot of people talk about the issue, right? I certainly have, for years. I remember learning about it in my Oceanography class at university, and of course the most recent headlines that associate coral bleaching with climate change (human caused or not). It was quite troubling to see. I witnessed what looked like coral graveyards, a lot of them. That sounds weird to say, but that's exactly what they looked like. To be fair, I don't personally have a previous experience on the Great Barrier Reef to compare this one to, but the crew members leading the tour all seemed to have some strong, and discouraging opinions.
Some of the coral looked similar in structure to those close-by, still in their usual shape, just missing color, and missing the marine life hustling and bustling by. It looked like a bunch of coral skeletons. Even more troubling, there were also a lot of areas that simply looked like a pile of coral 'bones' along the seafloor. I don't know how else to describe it. The pictures in my mind are quite grim.
The marine biologist leading the glass, semi-submerged boat tour said she has noticed the bleaching getting much worse in the last couple of years. She says what we were seeing can be part of the natural process coral goes through, but that the current conditions have been speeding up the process at an astounding rate. She asked us to take note though that just because the coral has turned white doesn't necessarily mean it is indeed dead, but it does mean it is at risk of dying. The phenomenon is described as getting worse in these SBS and Sky News articles.
If you'd like to hear a it more about the plight... here are a few passages from a letter the Chair and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Dr. Richard Reichelt has on their website: 'Claims that the Great Barrier Reef is dead are irresponsible and untrue. I am deeply concerned about the impacts of the mass coral bleaching event which is affecting coral reefs throughout the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. The Authority’s preliminary analysis of last summer’s coral bleaching event indicates its impact was highly variable across the Great Barrier Reef with an overall coral mortality of 22 per cent. The 2016 mass coral bleaching, the worst bleaching event to affect the Great Barrier Reef, was triggered by record-breaking sea surface temperatures — reflecting the underlying trend of global ocean warming caused by climate change combined with a strong El Niño. Ensuring Reef resilience is our core priority and we are doing all we can to support its recovery. Over the next decade the Australian and Queensland governments will spend some $2 billion on Reef protection with the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef continuing to be a national priority, with the Marine Park Authority playing a key role. The national effort includes financing clean energy projects through the Reef Fund, improving water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient runoff into Reef waters through Reef Trust, controlling the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish through investment in surveillance and control programs, as well as additional programs valued at some $460 million over eight years to protect the Reef.'
***In conclusion, I had an amazing experience on the Great Barrier Reef and want to thank TripAdvisor and Down Under Cruise and Dive for helping to make it possible. I saw some spectacular marine life and learned a lot about the issues these eco-systems are facing.