Larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing visible from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
Over 2900 reefs form an outer ribbon parallel to Australia’s north eastern coast, spanning 2300km in length and 80km at its broadest. The reef is estimated to be 18 million years old!
Diving here was definitely one of our most anticipated and top things to do from the planning stages of our trip and we were eager to sign up for a three day live-aboard, diving eleven times in this short span.
With over 1500 species of fish, 400 types of coral, 500 varieties of seaweed, 4000 breeds of clams, 10 types of sharks and 6 breeds of turtles, we had plenty to see!
The last time we had clam chowder, I noticed the restaurant was a little stingy on the clam, so when this big fella was spotted, a couple of thoughts crossed the mind.
Eleven dives didn’t seem enough! Our day would start bright and early (6am) with the cries from the skipper “Dive time guys! The pool is open!” have enough time to barely brush our teeth, get our gear on and jump right on in to wake up! Once we had explored for about 60 minutes underwater unguided, we would come back on board for some hearty breakfast, be briefed again for the second dive and back in the water mid morning. After lunch, we would take a brief nap, dive in the afternoon, come back on board for some cake (yum!), hang out with our fellow divers, eat some dinner and gear up for the night dive! This wonderful diving, sleeping and eating routine didn’t take much getting used to! We enjoyed every minute with the crew and new diving buddies and cherished every moment underwater.
On the reef itself we saw all that we were hoping for including giant sea turtles, many white tipped reef sharks, clownfish (Nemo), blue spotted sting rays, batfish, banner fish, angel fish, lobsters, shrimps, eels, barracudas, sea cucumbers, giant clams, box fish, schools of bump headed parrotfish, maori wrasse, gorgeous corals and so many more! Although we had seen similar species in Thailand, the shear vastness of the reefs made the diving incredible! We would definitely love to dive here some more!
We met some interesting and friendly fellow divers onboard. Lee, from Malaysia was a veteran diver, and hailed from Borneo, home to amazing diving. She was generous about lending out her underwater camera, and had us on the edge of our seats describing the diving in and around Semporna and Sipadan.
Here is Lee up on the surface following a dive.
We also became good friends with two New Yorkers, Stan and Barak, NYC firefighters. Barak works part time as a flight attendant, and Stan seems to make a convincing “partner”, yielding many opportunities for cheap international travel. Stan was also one of the funniest people we have met in a long time, and it was great hang with some countrymen. When you are on vacation, you want nothing to do with things that resemble your life back home, but when you are gone as long as we have been, you relish such opportunities.
Here’s Stan enjoying his dive.
Barak taking in the sun beneath the waves.
A group shot of Stan, Barak, Manali and Terry.
Although not nearly as intimidating as the 2 meter bullsharks we observed in Thailand, frequent visits by White Tip Reef Sharks, always brought us to attention. Watching the way a shark moves in the water, and in the wild particularly is an amazing experience. One of the divemasters would take down a plastic bottle, and roll it between his hands, creating a crackling sound that he swore attracted the sharks. He warned us, “Just don’t do it too much.”
On the second day, as we were moving to our afternoon dive location, the skipper called out that we had company. We were delighted to find a large school of Dolphin escorts leading the way, and doing so in a very theatrical way. They appear so friendly, you have a compelling urge to jump into the water and give them bear hugs. Maybe next time.
We didn’t quite appreciate Clownfish in Thailand, most likely because there were so many of them to be found. At the Great Barrier Reef however, they seem to be more of a rarity, and a gem to behold. They are such cute looking fish, and “Finding Nemo”, really does justice to personify that characteristic. Their relationship with the anemone is also fascinating, threatening to sting potential predators, but somehow identifying their valiant protector and resident Clownfish. Amazing!
Sea turtles were often out and about, and this is the first time were able to observe them feeding!
A myriad of other life exists on the GBR, as you can see for yourself below.