Hey there, it’s been a while!
Our 8 hour flight from Samoa gave us plenty of time to prepare for our short but packed visit to northern Australia and The Great Barrier Reef.  Keep in mind we have documentaries and lectures aboard the plane on each flight so the time is well utilized. Whether you like it or not- this is Nat Geo and you WILL listen.
Teresa Wolande
Spanning about 1400 Miles of islands, submerged reefs and vast coral gardens along Australia’s northeast coast, it is visible from space just like Easter Island’s airstrip. Unlike our other stops, the focus here was on a natural wonder of the world as opposed to a significant early civilization. The Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is increasingly imperiled by rising ocean temperatures and industrial run-off.
I have always been curious about The Reef, so I was anxious to see what it was all about. This was also the only stop where we would have a washer and dryer in our room. After 8 days of hard travel in hot weather I was never happier to do laundry in my life.
We landed in Cairns and headed one hour north to a wonderful hotel that was a bit remote. That is also how Nat Geo likes to roll- remote. Which means the internet blows. So my Samoa and this write- up should go through in Cambodia. Hopefully.

We had a special dinner guest our first evening., and he was a HIT.

Teresa Wolande

The next morning we were off to an early start to the Great Barrier Reef for a submerged vessel tour and snorkeling. It is an hour and half boat ride to a platform where we would board the submersible and tour a portion of the reef. Being the wet season, there was quite a bit of choppy seas. Since it was not very sunny and we did not have an underwater camera, it was very hard to capture the splendor of the reef. To see it in person is an amazing experience and one that would be difficult to capture on camera without the right equipment.

What strikes you the most is just about any fish that is native to this area can be found hanging around The Reef. It is utilized for protection against predators, is ant important food source, and is a place to raise the young. Larger fish, particularly sharks and others, will be found in deeper waters right off the reef looking for viable feeding opportunities.

The coral itself as you know is a living creature that eats algae, grows slowly, and provides the basis for the reef. I watched 2 of the 3 excellent Nat Geo documentaries on The Reef during the flight and they are well worth the time if you are interested. Coral do mate, and that happens according to the lunar cycle in combination with water temperature. (Obviously having sex frequently is not high on the priority list for coral.)

There is much to be fascinated by as you learn about the marine life cycles that the reef supports. The best for me is the role of Raine Island, which was 200 miles from where we were. Every October close to 30,000 sea turtles come from literally all over the islands to nest and lay their eggs as this species, like salmon, return to nest where they themselves were born. This is absolutely stunning to watch in the film, and I encourage you all to watch it-it puts Captiva into prospective to be sure. Raine Island is so protected that only hippie undatable researchers can go there as it supports a number of nearly extinct wildlife. Australia has truly done an amazing job in setting up protections for the reef, and funding important research.

After having a look around we left our highly entertaining submersible and re-boarded our boat for a quick trip to go snorkeling on part of the reef.

Our sweet ride for the day.

Teresa Wolande
Keep in mind that we had pretty rough water, which when you are an hour and a half out in the ocean can be challenging for snorkeling. Chuck and I secured our equipment including a full body lycra black suit, which was very slimming I must say. We were told that if we stood on, touched, took any piece of anything or offended any of the fish we would be fined and, worse yet, not be able to finish our laundry.

The snorkeling was mesmerizing. You just did not want to return to the boat it was so relaxing and beautiful. It was a bit physically challenging so not too many stayed out as long as we did. I was sick that we did not have an underwater camera-there are just no words to describe being amongst so much life of every imaginable color and size. From large schools of flashing bright blue minnows to groups of curious clownfish it was an experience I will take with me forever. You are humbled, awed, and made very aware that we are basically ants on a sphere subject to the massive physical elements that comprise our planet. It is just that overwhelming.

As a Nat Geo expert staff had joined us for the day on the way back we listened to an extremely interesting lecture on research being performed with the single most venomous animal in the world which is a type of jelly fish that inhabits these waters. That explained the lyrca suit. It also explained why those who were listening earlier (clearly not me) did not get in the water.  Of interest here is that once the venom is removed from the jelly fish that which remains has shown promise as a cure for arthritis as well as certain types of cancer. If any of you have listened to the TED talks on natural medicines derived from the rain forests you will remember that today’s pharmaceutical companies have ceased natural research and have moved almost exclusively to laboratory research. Which is unfortunate given there is still so much to learn from the oceans and vast tracts of unexplored rain forest that are still here.

Teresa Wolande

As I wrote earlier, the reef is under pressure from several threats. The best known and most widely reported is climate change. The reef is a delicate ecosystem that responds quickly to even a slight increase is water temperature. Interesting to note is that was created 30,000 years ago by the warming of the planet which resulted in a significant rise in worldwide sea levels. The reef actually was part of a land mass that was then submerged. Increase in the water temperature cause the coral to become stressed resulting in a phenomenon called coral bleaching. The coral can actually recover from this if the environment improves within a 2 year period. If not, the coral dies. There are significant efforts underway to mitigate this, including human intervention. Another threat are the massive sugar cane refineries that are present in this area. Run-off from these facilities seems to promote the growth of a natural predator of the coral, the crown of thorns starfish, that feeds upon them. Usually only a small portion of these starfish make it to adulthood-for whatever reason the run off provides a better environment for them and they survive. Which is not good for the coral to say the least. I will say that the amount of efforts that are underway to counteract these threats are numerous and impressive. But it will take the cooperation of the many in addition to the direct efforts of the Australian government and interested conservation organizations. And I know your generation is acutely aware of our responsibility in this, so I have great hope.

Quite a day. I would not hesitate to return here. And as I did spot a golf course on the way to the hotel, the clubs are coming as well as an obscenely excellent underwater camera. This was also an good place to emotionally and physically reset ourselves given that we are moving into a demanding portion of the trip.

The next day we departed early with a group to do a quick hour tour of a rain forest wildlife habitat. This did not disappoint as our local guide was excellent. This has to be one of the few areas of the world that the ocean and rain forest are so physically close, so you literally see all sorts of wildlife in one geographical area that I am confident you would not see anywhere else.

Thanks for reading!

Terry

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