Saturday, August 12, 2006

Swimming With The Fishes

Today I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.

Just want to take a second for that to sink in. Great. Barrier. Reef. World Heritage Site over 350 square kilometers in size and I was there, in it, with fish and reef and sand and sea and some really really big waves.

The winds that have been pummeling this part of the world didn't let up today as I piled into a yacht with 40 other people and we motored out an hour and a half to the outer reef. Swells were up to 3m high at times and at least one of the people sitting on my deck on the way out made very good use of the biodegradable barf bags available at no charge.

Our first stop was incredible, a big bit of coral teeming with life. Since this was my first time snorkeling and I toy with a bit of claustrophobia, I was a tad hesitant. But, I'd paid the fee, donned the gear, and what was left to do but jump out into the water? Jump out I did, and I'm pretty sure I was breathing at three times my normal rate (breathing underwater was really messing with my head!) when I wasn't swallowing gulps of seawater because a big wave had come through and submerged my snorkel.

After we'd all had our swim, we had an early lunch and a little presentation about the reef and the wildlife therein. Lots of mention of the words "symbiotic relationship" again. The time-out was a very good thing because it allowed the tide to go out a bit more and the wave action on the reef was much less pronounced at our second site.

This place had a giant wall of reef and it went on for ages. I was snorkeling much better now and I found myself being guided by the current into some tight spaces with very shallow reef. Since I'd noticed that all of the staff had some wicked scars from their encounters with reef, I was in no hurry to push my luck and get any closer to the reef than my noodle would allow. (Yes, I had a swimming noodle. It was actually very handy at keeping me right on the top of the water with all of those waves!) I made my way back towards the wall and I can't even begin to tell you all of the things that I saw. Definitely lots of types of coral, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, lots and lots of fish, anemones, and more fish.

At one point, feeling pretty brave, I started following a parrot fish around. He'd turn and check that I was back there every so often, and keep leading on. I finally decided to try and snap a photo of him and he turned around (and I'm sure that this was completely intentional) saw me taking aim, and pooed. I may very well have a photo of parrot fish poo. It's orange, by the way, and consists mostly of sand, just in case you were wondering.

We had one more stop, at a great sprawling place with loads of reef to look at. Here I saw a giant clam completely open with its giant purple insides filtering away. I also got so into my exploration that when I popped up to survey my location, I couldn't find the boat. I wasn't that far really, but I decided to make my way back anyway!

I did manage to meet a couple of Americans traveling and we ended up hanging out for most of the day. (People should know better than to wear USC gear in public, I mean, really.) Carlos (the dentist)and Sonya (the teacher)decided to cough up the $50 bucks for the CD of all the photos taken that day, so hopefully they remember my email address and I can show you my official underwater photo. I did get a camera of my own though to play with (you knew I would) and as soon as I get back to Melbourne, I'll have the photos developed. One thing I learned is that taking photos underwater is not easy. You can't really turn your head to frame everything just so. Water tends to go down your snorkel that way. So, I just ended up pointing in the general direction of things I thought were interesting. Hopefully some of them turned out!


Sarah said...

You are just amazing my stephanie ross!

Trina said...

Great. Barrier. Reef. You are the coolest Stephanie!!