Underwater Adventure

Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
Trip End Mar 27, 2013

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Port Douglas Big 4

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Somewhere under the sea and beyond your imagination is an adventure in fantasy."
-The Little Mermaid 

Swimming in the Great Barrier Reef is a dream come true for some. It certainly was a must-do for us! When we arrived to Port Douglas, we were super excited to go snorkeling. Port Douglas is a popular gateway for diving and snorkeling trips to the reefs.  It took us over a week to get to the East Coast from Darwin, but our motivation was the turquoise blue waters of the ocean that were waiting for us!

We boarded the popular boat, "Calypso." There seemed to be a group of about 20 people on the tour which was fine with us because we worried about overcrowding. We saw some other boats packed with at least 50-100 people the other day.  We wanted to make sure we didn't get on the booze cruise.  The ride from the village of Port Douglas was an hour long. We were dropped off at three different sites and returned to the vessel to travel between them. The ocean around the reef was deep however the corals were only a few feet below the low tide level. 

Captain Cook, the first Westerner that sailed in these waters made an incredible effort in navigating and mapping his findings. Our boat knew the way and avoided the dangers faced by earlier explorers. All we had to do was get our snorkeling gear ready and jump in. After swallowing some water Sasha learned to adjust his goggles and tube properly and could finally observe the reef dwellers. 
Dasha was happy that the crew had a pair of goggles with prescription lens that were perfect for her eyesight.  She didn't have to worry about wearing contacts or glasses underwater.  Dasha's favorite reef to snorkel in was called, "Opal reef."  It was a great big reef with green blue waters that seemed to be untouched by the pollution of bottles and garbage floating around.  

Under the sea
The reefs looked like huge boulders with spikes surrounded by clouds of fish of various colors and sizes. The closer to the sun, the more colors. Diving a few meters down helped to look at the sea floor from close up. Clams rested in the crevices of the reef. Sea cucumbers disguised themselves among plants on the ocean floor. Dasha lifted one with a little help from our guide and felt its hairy body before letting it go back to the realm of Neptune. While Sasha was looking at the fish a reef shark swam just underneath him in opposite direction. It was completely harmless. Tunas were cruising the waters looking for small fish to prey on. They were quite aggressive.  We got to go snorkeling in 3 different reefs which were pretty much the same except one time, we did spot some dolphins swimming close to our boat.  Sasha and a few others tried to jump in to catch a glimpse of the bottle noses but they retreated.  It was a close-call.  Maybe next time, Sasha.

Why not Cairns?
Another place to experience the GBR is to go from Cairns.  We heard from a few tourists that the reefs near Cairns were not as beautiful because of the influx of tourists.  Instead, we headed to Cairns to do some beach-bumming. Unfortunately, Sasha was disappointed that he could not swim at the beach. The stinger season was at its peak and a bite by those miniscule critters could require hospitalization. Moreover, salt water crocodiles were venturing out of estuaries for hunting trips. Other than swimming Cairns had lots of upscale shopping, hotels and restaurants which were clearly above our budget. Many operators left the city to the reef for day trips. Unfortunately, the impact on the ecosystem around Cairns was heavy. Fishing was allowed at most of the offshore areas. Tourist boats that zipped back and forth polluted the waters and sunscreen coming down from so many bodies poisoned the plants and animals.

The federal government and the state government of Queensland did not do such a good job in protecting the environment. National parks while covering large areas and looking good on the map are lacking investment and funding. Mining and resource interests are often put ahead of conservation. Mineral leases inside parks and conservation areas are very common. Many protected areas were fragmented to accommodate ranching and coal mining. Even World Heritage Sites, such as Kakadu or Daintree Rainforest are given a second thought. Only 5% of the Great Barrier Reef is fully protected. We learned that the corals are extremely sensitive to all changes in the ecosystem on our snorkeling trip.

Bonus points
Although the food was mediocre on the tour, Calypso did provide us with a vegetarian lunch and snacks in the afternoon of cookies and coffee/tea, It was an added bonus that we were able to rent an underwater Canon camera for $60.  SD could describe the GBR and the many stunning tropical fish in more detail, but the pictures do a better job!!! At the end of the day, we were pleased with our snorkeling trip, it was definitely worth it. 

Sea you later,

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