Chapter III: The Great Barrier Reef

***Disclaimer: the chapters are written in a chronological way, except for this one. Before visiting the reef, we did a road trip to the outback, but it also happened at the end of our visit in Australia a week later, so the outback chapter will be all together, and there I will write about the experience visiting ancient Aboriginal paintings in Laura, and the  magnificent lava tubes of Undara.

Going to Australia and not going to the Great Barrier Reef is like going to Paris and not going to the Louvre museum, maybe this is not the best of analogies, but you know what I mean. The Great Barrier Reef is more than just massive; it is a universe of itself that encompasses not only one of the greatest scientific research natural fields, but also an important cultural and historical center for both Aborigines and Australians.

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Just some quick facts before I move to my experience at the reef: 1. It is composed of 2.900 individual reefs 2. It stretches for over 2.600 km in an area of 344.400 square km 3. It is located in the Coral Sea, off Queensland’s coast  4. It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World 5. It is a very delicate ecosystem and it is endangered To have visit the Great Barrier Reef was an experience of a lifetime, not only because I swam holding hands with my Mario (yes, I know this sounded kind of cheesy), but also because the next snorkeling/diving experiences that I will have will be boring and not as exciting as this one. We hire a company not in Cairns and many people did, but in Port Douglas, which is also a hub that provides tourism services to and around the reef.

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Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

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Clownfish in his protection place

We had two different experiences in the reef with two different companies. I will let you know about them and the pros and cons of each of them. The first day, we went in a small group of 30 people, which was great because the smaller the group the more opportunities you had to interact with the other visitors and with the crew; besides, this first time was only for snorkeling. It was a whole day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and we went to a group of reefs that were away from the more touristy ones. In the three snorkeling opportunities that we had, we saw all kinds of fishes,  gigantic clams, corals and starfishes.

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

The best thing about this first day at the reef was that we could as many questions as we wanted about the ecosystem that surrounded us. There were two marine biologists that have strictly focus their research efforts in the reef and/or the fauna that live there. Sharks are really common and not dangerous to humans, they are smaller than what we think and feed on small fishes, as well as turtles. Rays are not very common in the clear waters of the reefs, yet we saw a very big one around the area. Kat had seen more than us, she saw a shark and a turtle, too.

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

On the second reef day (two days later) we went with a different company to a different group of reefs. This time the ship was larger and we were three time as much people, because it was a diving boat with snorkelling service. The guys chose to dive this time, while us decided to snorkel. Kat and I saw that the amount of people involved in the snorkelling was too much for the guides to handle, so we just paid attention to the instructions and concluded that we would do the reef “tour” alone, in that sense we’d be free to swim around as we pleased. And so we did, and saw a greater diversity of fauna than the first time, mostly of the very shy anemone fish (AKA clownfish). The guys on the other hand, went deeper to see bigger fishes such as sharks or rays, but were not very lucky.

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Clownfish hiding in the coral. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

I wouldn’t choose between the two days, I would join them in one mega day because the first one was very informative and much more intimate, with a lot of learning and understanding of the reef’s ecosystem; the second day was more about exploration and diversity were we didn’t have the information from the first day, but we got the diversity that we didn’t get before. If I could advice to those traveling to Australia and visiting the Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, don’t hesitate in snorkelling because when you’re closer to the surface the colors and brighter and there is more diversity; the deeper you go the less colourful it gets, and the reason for that is that the sun rays can get to a certain depth.

Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

A lion fish. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

No diving/snorkeling experience can be compare to the one in Australia, that’s why it is called by many people as the best site for this kind of activities in the world. My reef experience at the Red Sea in Hurghada was excellent  it also was my very first time diving and snorkeling, but the Great Barrier Reef was more than fantastic and, unfortunately, the future snorkeling experiences that I’d have will not be as cool as this one, I believe.

Another clownfish. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

Another clownfish. Photo by MBVK (the first letter of our names)

I will come with more things about Australia soon, so stay on!

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