Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Great Barrier Reef

Trio
We were looking forward to seeing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but we were also a little worried that we'd be jaded after having had such fantastic snorkeling in the Galapagos.  Our concern was unfounded--the reef was amazing, and very different from what we'd seen anywhere else.

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 We had a great marine biologist as our guide, and she explained a lot about the reef ecosystem.  Above, she's holding up a sea cucumber.  She got really excited when a tiny fish dropped out of it--it's a fish that normally lives in the cucumber's gut, so you rarely see it.  In the video below, she's demonstrating how a giant clam closes when you wave your hand near it (she doesn't actually touch it).  While the clam does not have eyes, it has a symbiotic relationship with a light sensitive microorganism that grows on the scallops, which senses large obstructions to light, and signals the clam to close itself for protection.

 We saw a lot of jelly fish (hence the stinger suits):



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Also lots of tiny fish, and a few really large bumper head parrot fish (roughly 3 feet long)




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We saw lots of beautiful, healthy coral, as well as some sections that were broken by the recent cyclone.  At least this kind of damage is part of a natural lifecycle.  Our guide mentioned that the vivid neon colors sometimes seen in coral are a sign of distress; they turn those shades when they are dying back.




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Lana and David in stinger suits.  While they worked for stingers (we know, because we both got minor stings on our exposed chins, but nowhere else) David's suit was a little thin for UV protection, and he got a nasty burn through it.

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We took a break on one of the small islands; this one had a light house, and we took a brief walk through the mangrove to see the native birds there.
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These fish were fascinating, and they seemed as curious about us as we were about them.  They look like they have the imprint of a sneaker on the top of their head.  When they weren't peering at us, they would swim alongside of one of the black tipped reef sharks.

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The reef sharks weren't that interested in us, but didn't actively avoid us either.  They were only 4 to 5 feet long.

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In the afternoon, we got back on our catamaran, and headed for Port Douglas. We unfurled the sails on the way back in, which was a nice change from all the motoring we had been doing.

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We spent two days on the reef, one on a snorkeling trip to some of the further areas of the reef, and the second on the catamaran which headed out to the Low Isles, the island in the picture above. Both days included lunch and snorkeling. The first day we had a marine biologist who was excellent at showing us various marine life and taking some great pictures as well (these are all ours, though).  The second day included the sail to the island and more free-form snorkeling to and from the island and the boat. The two days gave us a good mix of what the reef had to offer, and both excursions were intimate in that there were only 16 or so snorkelers on each boat. We loved both for different reasons, and aside from the fact that David got a second degree sunburn through his stinger suit, they few days we spent in Port Douglas and Cairns were really great.