Two days ago I finally managed to get out on a day’s snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I departed on a boat from Port Douglas, and it took us around an hour to reach the reef itself. We had been warned that the sea would be rough and that we should all take anti-sickness medication. I began the journey out on the deck, enjoying being buffeted by the whipping wave-spray crashing over the top of the boat. However, after a while I was completely saturated, the water hitting my face was starting to sting, and the deck was pitching at alarming angles, making it hard to stand up, so I admitted defeat and joined the rest of the group inside. Stupidly, having become completely wet, the wind-chill factor hit me bad after that and I ended up getting uncontrollable shivers.
However, help was at hand, as we then had to don our ‘sting-suits’; hilarious, skin-tight, lycra suits in black for the majority of the group, but in bright sky-blue for myself and another girl, who needed a smaller size. These suits come complete with skin-tight hood and mittens. Most of the group managed to pull off ninja/James Bond to varying degrees in their black suits, but we two blue-girls could only hope to emulate a smurf crossed with Morph from Heartbeat (target audience):
We visited a total of three reefs and, with the sun deigning to finally come out for a brief period, the first glimpse of a coral cay, fringed with dense coral with sand shallows inside, forming a jewel in the ocean, was incredible.
First glimpse of the reef.
There were eighty people on the boat, some scuba-diving and some snorkelling. However, once in the water, head below the surface, it was easy to get away from the crowds and feel like you were part of another, piscean world.
I can’t really begin to do justice to the beauty of the sub-aquatic world of textured corals, kaleidascopic colourful fish and giant, sucking clams. The corals were all shades of pink and orange, some with bright-blue tips, green fronds and yellow protrusions. Corals are divided into soft and hard corals, and the vast array of textures is mind-boggling – swaying tendrils, waving tubes, broccoli knobbles, squashy sponge, cactus shapes… Huge numbers of colourful fish flitted in and out of the crevices, and gently grazed on the coral’s surface: angel fish, zebra-fish, dour-faced chunky cod, snapper and wrasse skulking in the shadows, shoals of tiny electric blue fish, moving as one, plus huge numbers of other unfeasibly psychadelic-coloured and irridescent species, displaying their rainbow colours with pride. I am not sure why so much colour abounds in the reef, as it doesn’t serve as camouflage; perhaps it’s just an environment that embraces a joi de vivre through colour – absolutely stunning. A particular favourite sight was lots of stripy Nemos darting in and out of a soft, tubular coral, exactly as they do in the film.
I was struck by how calm the world seemed underwater. Above the surface, rain thrashed the sea and the restless waves rolled and heaved, but below all was relaxed and slow. The fish just meandered around on their own business, no cares in the world, and the soft corals swayed lazily. Every time I popped my head back out of the water I was smacked in the face by a wave and struggled to catch my breath in a suddenly frenetic world of constant movement, but as soon as I dipped below again I felt instantly immersed in and soothed by the underwater tranquility.
It really was like being in a totally new world – my brain struggled to cope with so much novelty and my eyes stayed wide open, trying to take it all in. I felt totally at ease amongst the fish and found myself diving down deeper and more often, hanging out amongst the divers near the sea bottom rather than staying as a voyeuristic snorkeller looking down from above. It felt great to dive all the way down to a giant clam, and watch its emerald green surface open and close like a hungry mouth inches from my face.
I was the last snorkeller back in the boat on each of the reefs – on the last one they had to send someone out to retrieve me, so engrossed was I. I just wanted to make the most of the incredible sights, knowing this might be the only time I see this wonderful natural phenomenon.
The journey back into Port Douglas was ridiculously rough – I watched the sides of the boat tip from side to side at gravity-defying angles, and felt glad I’d succumbed to the anti-sickness pills. The boat was like an over-populated hospital ward – people lay on the floor everywhere looking green, with a strong smell of vomit in the air. Still, I shut my eyes and dreamt of the magic of the reef and was able to switch off from the realities of land-lubbers struggling to cope with the ocean by remembering the easy union of the beautiful underwater life with its watery environment.
All I can say is – I want to do it again – LOTS! I am definitely encouraged to learn to dive in Thailand now – I think I have discovered that I’m a bit of an underwater-baby.