Melbourne is chilly this time of the year (although, as I write this the sun is shining and I am contemplating turning the heater off). So, like many Melbournians, we set off to Port Douglas to find some sun. Actually, the real reason to head north was to celebrate my Mum’s 90th birthday. My whole family went up, rented a house or two, and enjoyed each other’s company for 6 nights. The warmth was an added bonus!
Port Douglas is in Far North Queensland, an hour’s drive north of Cairns. Once upon a time it would have been lovely sleepy fishing village, now it is full of resorts and Melbournians escaping Winter. Even so, it was a lovely place to spend time, and the Daintree Rainforest is only a little way up the road.
And it is right on the Great Barrier Reef, that marvel of nature that curves its way for 2300 kms along the Queensland coast. Unfortunately it is being impacted by climate change and other human activities. David Attenbourgh produced a wonderful series about the Reef and I would recommend watching it. I would also recommend this website that he has created using footage from the series as well as other scientific material.
I could not miss the chance to see a tiny part of the Reef.
We sailed out to Agincourt Reef on the Outer Barrier Reef on a big catamaran. This reef is at the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, where the Continental Shelf drops away to the Pacific Ocean. It is this shallow shelf, only 20 to 30 metres deep, which has given the corals the light and the chance to form. A couple of kilometres from these reefs the sea floor drops away to more than 500 metres. I could see the line of waves breaking on this edge.
I looked into different options to going out to the Reef and this seemed to be the best one to suit both my low snorkelling ability (i.e. non-existent!) and Mum. We needed a way for her to experience the Reef without getting in the water. The catamaran took us out to a pontoon moored permanently on the Reef. They have to adhere to strict guidelines to safe guard the Reef’s biology and beauty.
Our first adventure was on the semi-submersible, which took us for a tour of the coral canyons. How amazing to have the fish swim up to the windows and glide away, to see the sea cucumbers lying on the floor and the giant coral constructions.
I was blown away but the textures of the corals, so many different varieties! The colours weren’t as spectacular as I expected, but there was a lot of turbidity in the water and it wasn’t a sunny day. Both factors made it difficult to photograph, but you can see some of the coral that I found inspiring.
Surprisingly the fish had the most vivid colours. And we saw two turtles! How special was that?!
After floating with the fish it was time to snorkel. I have never snorkelled, and am not a confident swimmer, but I really wanted to see these creatures for my self. So I kitted my self in everything available, including an optical mask as I am very short-sighted, and off I went. I had to consciously remember to breath through my mouth and not panic when my face was under water. Once I had that mastered I was off and it was a magical experience. No photos to show, but if there were I would show you more textures and colours, little fish darting away from me, big fish gliding past and clams! There must have been half a dozen clams, some quite large, in the roped off area where we swam. One had iridescent blue ‘lips’, probably the most intense colour I saw all day.
It was a magical experience, and it has made me more aware of the fragility of the environment. There are many human induced pressures on the Reef, and we must do all we can to protect it. You might like to check out these organisations who are exploring ways to build awareness and are campaigning to protect it from further damage. (I am not endorsing any of these, just giving you links to follow up if you would like to know more.)
The David Attenborough website I mentioned before