Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A week in Cairns (part III / V) - The Great Barrier Reef

A week in Cairns (part III / V)

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef

The main reason for our trip to Cairns was to see the world famous Great Barrier Reef.  I had learnt a little bit about the reef whilst I was street fundraising for the ACF (Australian Conservation Foundation) such as only a third of the reef is actually protected which is quite surprising considering the whole reef is listed as a world heritage site.  There were even plans to start drilling for oil in the reef but the good people at the ACF applied pressure and the plans were eventually scrapped.

Good on you

As we had previously discovered the only viable way of seeing the reef was through excursion trips.  We took 2 excursions to sail out to the reef on separate days.  On one of the trips about an hour out of Cairns we stopped off at a small island to pick up a few more people.  The island was very picturesque and looked like one of those typical tropical islands you see in travel brochures.  The island was covered in lush green trees and the beaches were made of flawless golden white sand.  There was a hotel on the island but it was hidden away in the dense green forest.  The sea surrounding the island was a beautiful shade of light blue and looked very inviting.  I guess I had originally imagined Cairns to look a bit like this island.

Who's idea was that?  Lets put a pick-up truck on an island with no roads

The Reef

On both excursions after about 2 hours from leaving Cairns the boats would suddenly stop in what looked just like deep sea.  The only sign of the reef from the deck of the boat were some waves crashing on some shallow rocks over in the distance.
After the boats were anchored up we were given the go ahead to get geared up and to enter the water.  Since we were in the Coral Sea I was expecting the water to be pleasantly warm but the water was much colder than I had thought.  The wetsuit kept most of me dry and reasonably warm but occasionally a small amount of water would enter the suit and trickle down my back which gave me the shivers.
When we were all in the water and acclimatised an instructor would lead us to the reef.  Whilst following the instructor I could see what looked like a massive underwater boulder come into view.  I guess the reef was made up of these submerged rocky islands were the water is shallow enough to support underwater plant life.
When we arrived at the reef we were advised not to swim over the reef as the water was very shallow and we could risk damaging the coral with our flippers.  After the instructor left I started to do circles around the reef.  My first impression of the reef was a bit modest at first, I was expecting an underwater forest of brightly coloured coral.  In reality the reef was more of a beige and dark green colour.  I wasn’t disappointed though, I was swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and it was awesome. 

Awesome stuff

The edge of the reef, note how steep the drop was at the edge of the reef

Olivia holding what I think was some kind of Sea Cucumber

Residence of the reef

There were many different types of fish swimming around who didn’t seem bothered by our presence.  Instead they just continued doing what fish do, which didn’t seem to be much.  They were just wondering around the coral (a bit like me).
During my rounds around the reef I came across a school of parrot fish who I started to follow.  They would swim around the reef slowly and then suddenly dive on a section and start eating it.  The sound of 20 odd parrot fish scraping bits of coral off the rock with their bills was very loud and gave me that nails on a chalk board feel.
During my wonders of the reef I would occasionally come across a giant clam.  These ominous looking shells were just sat on the seabed amongst the coral.  I was tempted to put my hand in one of the shell’s open mouth but it was too deep to reach which was probably a good thing.
So...I have swum in the Great Barrier Reef, awesome.  A great experience to tick off my list.

Olivia is a qualified scuba diver and took some of the best photos.  I wasn't allowed anywhere near the
scuba equipment because I have asthma

Show off

Giant clam

I only saw a glimpse of this turtle, Olivia was lucky enough to
get close enough to feed it and give its belly a scratch

The boat from a distance

A good day

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