The great barrier reef is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems in the world located on the northeast coast of Australia. Made up of more than 3000 reefs and home to thousands of marine life, it provides some of the most spectacular marine scenery. It is one of the few living structures visible from space as a complex string along Australia’s coast.
The Great Barrier Reef varies in depth with vast shallow inshore areas, deeper at mid-shelf and outer reefs and deepest further out into the ocean.This variation in depth as one goes further out into the ocean adds to the diversity of the species inhabiting these reefs.Apart from this, many of the cays act as breeding grounds for colonies of sea birds and the green turtle.
It holds great scientific interest as it is home to the Dugong(sea cow) and the large green turtle which are threatened species.
A coral is an invertebrate colonial organism…meaning many individuals live and grow while connected to each other.
Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. A combination of rising water temperatures, pollution, severe cyclones and crown- of -thorns starfish outbreaks are the main dangers to the reef itself and the iconic animals that depend on it.
Temperature: Rising temperatures cause heat stress to the corals which expel the microalgae that live inside ; exposing their white skeletons. This is called Coral bleaching. This is a reversible change if temperatures reduce.
Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean waters leading to their acidification. Acidic pH is detrimental to coral survival.
Climate change has triggered increase in frequency and severity of cyclones which damage the reef.
Rising water temperatures trigger migration of marine species to cooler areas. This causes competition in these areas threatening the entire ecosystem.
Crown-of Thorns Star fish:
These are spiky marine creatures that occur naturally in reefs. They feed on coral. When they appear in large numbers, they devastate the reef.
Pre and post bleaching images of a coral (these are images from the web and posted solely for demonstrating the changes in corals)
We visited the reef from Cairns; which is considered The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Its tropical climate and its access to the reef makes it a popular tourist destination.
Cairns Esplanade , lined with bars and restaurants has a swimming lagoon.
The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Cairns is a fun city and offers tourists various options including casinos.There are plenty of establishments offering trips to the reef. We booked of Reef tour with Sunlover Cruises.
A casino at Cairns
Next morning we packed our swimwear and a change of clothes and headed to the wharf to board the cruise to the reef. The cruise ride was pretty rough and the staff distributed kits for seasickness. Lot of people on the cruise were seasick on our way up to the reef.
The Cruise to the Reef
During the ride to the reef, the instructors on board gave demonstrations on snorkeling and scuba diving. They explained the use of the gear, the flippers, the snorkel etc. Needless to say, the potential scuba divers were given more detailed and practical instructions than the snorkelers. The people who were sea sick were attended to by the cruise staff.
As we rode further away from the shore, gradually patches of reef were visible. The area where there is a reef looks more greenish compared to the surrounding ocean.
Approaching the reef…note the greenish colour
As you reach closer to the reef, few corals can be seen through the clear waters…
Few corals seen as one gets closer to the reef
After a choppy ride for about an hour and a half we arrived at Moore reef pontoon. This pontoon is a platform built at sea from where the tourists can undertake snorkeling, scuba diving and such other reef viewing activities.
The Moore Reef Pontoon
We left the cruise boat and boarded the pontoon. The pontoon has all facilities and we were told that we can leave our belongings at the pontoon.
From there, we boarded the glass bottom boat for coral viewing which was ready and waiting for us. The guide took us along some of the reefs which we could see through the glass bottom of the boat.
The interior of the glass bottom boat.
Corals seen from the glass bottom boat.
After the ride on the glass bottom boat we were taken on a semi submersible vessel for more coral viewing.
This vessel is partly submerged in water and the passengers go down via the stairway to the seats which are alongside the sides of the boat. Corals can be viewed through the windows.
The Semi sub
Inside the semi sub
Views of corals from the side windows of the semi sub
After the semi sub experience, we decided to try our hands at snorkeling.
After putting on our swimwear and collecting our snorkel, goggles and flippers, we headed to the stairs on the side of the pontoon. Guided by the staff on the pontoon and the life guards, we joined some of our co passengers who were already snorkeling .
The first time you look under the ocean, is a moment of ecstasy! The sheer expanse of the waters and the fish around you is just amazing. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by plenty of multicolored small fishes and of course the ocean floor has lots of coral too. I must confess that I had difficulty snorkeling with water entering my snorkel tube in spite of all the precautions taken as per the guide’s advice. Of course there were people who were very adept at it and went on at it for a long time.
The views from our snorkeling expedition are not photographed as it requires special underwater cameras. I am unable to share the real life views due to this. It is difficult to take even these pictures from the snorkeling platform for obvious reasons.
The corals look more colorful in real life than seen in these pictures.These pictures are taken through glass windows which I suspect are tinted and that is why there is a uniform bluish green color overriding the color of the corals
I must mention here that there are lifeguards overlooking the snorkelers very carefully and any sign of distress is addressed immediately.
No one is allowed to touch or hinder the fish in any way. They are very strict about it and we were clearly told that any attempt at touching the fish will entail a fine.
The launching pad for the snorkeling session..
Trying my hand at snorkeling!
After spending some time among the beautiful fish, we returned to the safety of the pontoon , changed up and headed for lunch. An elaborate lunch was spread out on the pontoon and we helped ourselves to it.
Post lunch we visited the underwater observatory on the pontoon. This is similar to the semi sub. Here we can watch the fish that swim along the sides of the pontoon from inside the safety of the pontoon. There was a feeding session for the fish . This is done specifically to attract more fish to the sides of the pontoon for the benefit of the tourists.
There was an interaction with a marine biologist too after the feeding session. He explained many details about the corals and the fish that live among the reefs.
Views from the underwater observatory
The interaction with the Marine Biologist
After all these activities we left the pontoon and boarded the cruise back to Cairns.
It was indeed a wonderful experience…again a once in a lifetime experience!
If I claim to have shown you all that I experienced; I would be being unfair. The sheer challenges prevent me from getting you better pictures.
After all, there are some experiences in life which cannot be explained or shared ….one has to experience it oneself..
This is one such experience….
After a short two day stay at Trinity Beach, we headed to New Zealand….a real beauty…
Next week, I start my series on New Zealand….see you there…
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