Well, if Day 1 is anything to go by, I think this is going to be a pretty incredible trip. By 8am we had boarded our boat ‘Passions of Paradise’ and set sail into the Great Barrier Reef! Because of the calm and clear weather conditions, the crew were able to take us out to Miln Reef and the Three Sisters – supposedly one of the top destinations for coral viewing and fish spotting.
Sailing out to the Reef was extremely strenuous… I can imagine, for the boat crew at least. For us, it primarily involved chilling on the sun deck drinking coffee and trying not to think too much about sea sickness. Two hours later, we had arrived!
Feeling like pros in our very fetching outfits, ready to take on the Reef!
After a brief safety chat we were ready to jump into the water, with the most challenging (and amusing) part of this being attempting to walk in flippers to the boat’s edge! But after a couple of slips and stumbles, we were in!
Now, you might be expecting me to say that we’d journeyed all the way out to the Reef, took a deep breath, peered under the water’s surface… and saw miles of discoloured, dead coral. Well of course, because the Great Barrier Reef is dying as a result of human actions causing coral bleaching and will have been completely destroyed in a few years’ time, right? Wrong! The coral was vibrant, colourful, and this whole underwater world felt very much alive.
Not going to lie, I may have shed a tear or two at my first sight of the reefs. It was more than I could have imagined – there was coral of all shapes and colours, with caves and crevices for the schools of multi-coloured fish to dance in and out of. The beaming sun made it even more magical, as the rays bounced off the shimmering fish as they navigated around the coral. And most noticeable was the overwhelming sense of peace and calm.
As we floated about, I turned to Emma and said “Doesn’t it make you feel tiny?”. Literally, physically, tiny. Surrounded by mountains of coral, and the deepest blue depths that looked like they had no end. I felt like I was getting a secret snapshot into a completely undiscovered world, an intruder looking in as the local fish happily went about their busy lives – the most immersive, 4D live screening of Finding Nemo!
Unfortunately, our front-row seat tickets had to expire at some point, and at late afternoon we reluctantly clambered back onto the boat ready to head home. But, the big bonus of the trip was about to come, as we got to learn more about the organisms and ecosystem that we had been exploring. It was here that our presumptions about the devastating state of the reefs’ future were reverted.
We learnt that coral bleaching is a natural part of the life cycle of coral, and that even after the mass bleaching events during the high temperatures of summer 2016/17, the mortality rate of coral in the Great Barrier Reef was only around five percent. So yes, global warming is a threat to coral reefs, but not in the dramatised way that popular media might have us believe.
I was also interested to learn about how ocean plastic is affecting the Great Barrier Reef. Ocean plastic is the hot topic of discussion at the moment, so I was surprised not to see any traces of plastic debris in the Reef. One of the crew members explained that they remove large pieces of ocean plastic from their snorkelling sites – brilliant! However, micro-plastics (tiny pieces of plastic where larger pieces have been broken down) remain, and can be mistaken by fish as food. Turtles as well have very poor eyesight, so can easily mistake a plastic bag for a dietary staple; jellyfish. This definitely reinstated why it is so important that we all do our bit to reduce consumption of single-use plastics (something that we are finding challenging so far while travelling, and deserves a whole other blog post to fully address).
As we clambered off the boat, Emma and I were left with an overwhelming sense of respect for the ocean; it’s size and it’s beauty (and a little jealous of the fish that get to call it home!). I guess I had set my expectations too low due to popular media, but the benefit of this was that these expectations were blown out of the water (pardon the pun), and the reef’s beauty was more than I could have hoped. What a way to start the trip!