The day got off to an early start as we had a 6:15 AM wake-up call for a 7:15 AM departure for the marina to head off to the Great Barrier Reef. After our strenuous three-minute ride to the harbor, energy was high as we boarded the boat and put on some sunscreen to go and enjoy the sunshine. The trip out was incredible - the mountains standing proudly in the distance, the smell of the ocean mist, the radiating warmth of the sun on our skin. Megan decided to lay down and take a nap - thank goodness she didn't roll off the boat. It took about an hour and a half to get from the marina out to our first snorkeling spot of the day.
By the time we arrived, everyone was extremely excited as we prepared to jump on in with our masks, snorkels, flippers, wet suits and life jackets in hand. We were lucky enough to visit this particular spot on the reef during one of the six days a year that a small sandy beach appears, due to the change in the tide. Since we were so lucky, we were dropped off on the little island and were able to walk our way into the water before starting our explorations. Various divers accompanied us in the water and led groups around the reef - picking up starfish, answering questions, and helping us dive down to view stingrays in caves well below the surface. The reef was teeming with life. At one spot you could find Nemo hanging out around his sea anemone, Dory cutting in and out of the coral (probably humming the tune of just keep swimming), and even Gil minding his own business a top the colorful coral.
Time flew by and before we knew it, we were being called into the boat to have lunch. To our surprise, we came in to an extensive spread of prawns, salmon, various lunch meats, cole slaw, sweet potato salad, pasta salad, chicken legs, and a never-ending supply of bread. We all filled our plates to capacity and ventured up to the top deck to enjoy our meal in the sun with our new friends from England.
Since we are UChicago students, we of course did quite a bit of learning out at the reef. The biggest myth is that the Reef is dying. The media gives us stats like "97% of the coral has been bleached". What many people don't know is that coral bleaching is a natural occurrence. This process actually occurs from the UV ray exposure - the higher the exposure, the more bleaching that occurs. This becomes a problem when large amounts of bleaching occur in consecutive years. These past two years is such a case. By having the media say "the reef is dying", we lose the necessary support needed to preserve this beautiful ecosystem. Another myth is that coral bleaching is the number one cause for the death of the reef. This is also false. Ever heard of a crown of thorns? It is a type of sea star that is covered in spines. This particular creature attaches to the coral and eats it. Just in one day, one single sea star can eat up to 20 square meters of coral. So how can we help? It starts by getting the word out that the reef is not dead - people are more likely to care about something when it still has a shot at surviving, and indeed the reef is still alive and well. Another way is to actively go out and kill the crown of thorns and currently there are divers being trained and certified to kill these creatures, which should help to restore reef life.
After drying off for a bit, we ventured to our second spot on the reef in hopes of seeing some new critters. We all were a little more adventurous - ditching life jackets and adorning wet suits to make the most of our last diving experience. It is at this site that we swam next to giant clams (a few of us even ran our hands over them to make them open and close), a plethora of rainbow-colored parrot fish, and Molly even found a pearl amongst the coral backdrop. Maeve thought that she was coming in to dry off and lay out on the deck before the boat headed back to shore, but had an alarming encounter on her way in. Unknown to her, the diving crew has acquired a "pet" over the past five years, who waits near the boat once a week to be fed by them. As Maeve was about to climb up the ladder, one of the divers told her to go under water one last time. She followed the instructions and came face to face with a 12-foot long creature, with eyes the size of tennis balls and a look that could kill - a BARRACUDA! As she tried to climb the ladder as quickly as humanly possible, another diver on board thought it would be funny to hum the music from Jaws. After having a chat with the divers and learning that the barracuda, nicknamed Barry, is more or less the divers pet, she felt a lot better.
After a long day, it was time to head back to the marina. Everyone was beat and lounging on the top deck hoping to catch the last of the sunshine. Did we think it was possible to top our adventure out at the reef? Of course not, but the ride home was a close second. Upon this boat is the world's longest thrill ride, timing out at an hour and thirty minutes, reaching high speeds that send the wind through your hair, and unlike at Disney World there was no line! Getting back to shore required us to sail straight into the wind and waves that we had been sailing with on the way out. Due to this combination, we all received free sea-salt facials as we were constantly bombarded with water about every 20 seconds. Some of us took shelter below, but a few brave souls remained up top and enjoyed what has to be the world's most underrated log ride.
As we exited the boat at the marina, we once again enjoyed a three-minute bus ride back to the hotel where we all showered and set out to find dinner. We ate delicious seafood and ended our night with gelato and churros!
We are having a blast in Australia and are excited about all the adventures that are to come in Sydney! Will we visit P. Sherman at 42 Wallaby Way? Are the mountains really blue? Will Megan make it up and down the bridge without falling? Will Molly still have knees when our time in Sydney is over? Will our new bus driver be as cool as Julie? Will the Maroon Tailgate Club flag fly high in the Olympic Stadium? Stay tuned to find out (:
Great Barrier Reef Facts:
- Humans kill 11,000 sharks every hour, 11 people are killed by sharks per year, none of those deaths have ever occurred in the Great Barrier Reef.
- There are seven species of sea turtles, six of which can be found at the reef.
- Only 1 in 10,000 sea turtle eggs will survive to maturity.
- Theory: Without sharks, we would cease to exist - 70% of the oxygen that we breath comes from phytoplankton in the ocean. Sharks are the apex of the ocean food chain, hence getting rid of them would ruin the entire ecosystem. If the ocean ecosystem became unbalanced, there would be no more phytoplankton and humans would eventually die due to lack of oxygen.
- Coral is named by how it looks. Ex. Coral that looks like the brain —> brain coral (ingenious, right).
- Sea turtles do live to be about a 150 years old (gnarly dude!)