The Fellowship of the Ring of Fire, Part 12: Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was what I was most excited to go to on our trip. We booked a smaller boat that only takes a maximum of 12 passengers. Our trip only had 8. It took a very unsmooth 3 hour ride on the sail boat to Michaelmas Cay.
Our package was for 2 days and 1 night, so we would be sleeping out here. Luckily, Stephanie and I were the only ones that were going to scuba dive, so it was just us 2 and the instructor Rob. We didn't need to be certified to do these dives, which was nice. Rob just went through everything we needed to know, which wasn't much. We squirmed into the wetsuits, Rob helped us get our gear on, and we jumped off the side of the boat into the deep blue ocean.
For me the hardest part was concentrating on breathing through my mouth. After that, you just have to train yourself to relax and get used to the fact that you are breathing under water. Once you get the hang of it, it's absolutely amazing. It's like something out of Peter Pan. Just breathing under water was really exciting for me, but to do it at the Great Barrier Reef for the first time is something I'll never forget.
Our first time we went about 8 meters deep (26 feet), which, now that I think about it, is the deepest I'd ever been under water, vessel or no vessel. This was also the first time I'd seen coral in the wild. Coral are REALLY fascinating. If you could define it in 1 word, what would you say? Plant? Rock? It's actually an animal! There's so many different kinds and so many different colors. It's mind blowing to me to think they live together in these massive communities growing sometimes millimeters per year, and they're what I saw just inches in front of me. I couldn't film anything of course, but It wouldn't be worth much. You've probably seen it all before anyway. But as usual, seeing it on TV is absolutely nothing compared to being there just like reading about food is nothing compared to actually tasting it.
One of the first things we saw as we swam near the sand covered seafloor was a ray coming out from hiding in the sand. We saw many many sea turtles, some bigger than 2 people could wrap their arms around. We even saw an anemone with a few clownfish. The beautiful pictures you've seen are not exaggerated. They're like living neon.
One of the scary things for me was the giant clam. If they had pearls, they would be about the size of basketballs. Our instructor assured us it was safe to touch the inside even though you can see them open and close. I slowly reached my hand over to its opening. As soon as you touch the slimy inside of it, the clam quickly shuts its mouth. It doesn't shut it all the way, which is why it's safe to keep your hand in there. Still, it's really scary.
While on board, Rob went through some interesting facts about some of the sea life we saw. Dozens of fish and really interesting too like the Maori wrasse who can magically undergo a sex change. The anemone is very poisonous, yet the clown fish is somehow immune to the sting, so they are protected. On one of my dives, I saw a crown-of-thorns starfish, a scary-looking starfish for good reason. They are poisonous. They also are responsible for killing a lot of coral, since that's what they eat. One of our crew ember's job was to find these and kill them. Rob got a piece of dead coral strong enough to pry the starfish off and rest it on the coral like a boomerang hanging onto a tree branch. He put it in a big plastic tub for everybody to see while our crew member told us a little about it.
Our package included 3 introductory dives. After the 2nd, Stephanie wasn't feeling well from the water pressure. So I got to do 4 dives in total. My final dive was the most memorable. We went to a nearby area so that we would see some different things. This was also the deepest of the dives going down to about 18 meters (almost 60 feet). At one point, we swam to the edge of one of the big reefs. I could see out into the open water. When I turned around, I was amazed that behind me the reef I swam around was like a huge wall towering over me. Swimming over it was awesome. I was asked once if I had to choose, would I rather have the ability to fly or breathe underwater. Thinking about that down here seemed like I was doing both.