The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism in the world. It’s hard to feel its size and magnitude when you are in the middle of it and perhaps is best appreciated from the air. The Cairns harbor is full of tour boats that offering snorkeling and scuba trips and we felt lucky to spend the day on one. It took ninety minutes to get out to Michaelmas Cay which looked more like a large sandbar. It is within the national park and a protected sanctuary for sea birds. Most of this pile of sand was roped off for them, but we didn’t mind. What we came to see was beneath the waves. We hear a lot about coral bleaching, which happens when the sea is too warm and the little critters that live in the coral die and the remains of what they have built over the millennia turns white. Today we were happy to hear that if the stressed coral can return to life if more optimal conditions return in a few months. It can repopulate and continue to grow. The last two years had major bleaching here , but reduced water temperature allowed some of the coral to resume growing. Fingers crossed.
We have been reluctant to go into the ocean here, because there are so many dangerous creatures. Jelly fish are a particular worry and I have vivid memories of swimming along, seeing nothing unusual because jellies can be translucent, and feeling sharp stinging all over my body. The boat supplied lycra suits, much thinner and lighter than traditional wet suits. These protected us from the jellies and from the sunshine, which is extra potent here where the ozone layer is seriously diminished. The suits even covered our hands and had hoods and were not the least bit figure flattering, but we were glad we had them. In an area where tour boats bring tourists who may or may not know what they are doing and don’t always follow the rules about not stepping on the coral, we wonder how much more prolific the sea life would have been elsewhere. Nevertheless we saw coral formations we have never seen before in every color of the rainbow. Some looked like al dente spaghetti waving in the water; others looked like curly upholstery. Giant clams the size of a bathtub were especially impressive. They had a large hole in the middle of their flesh which serves as both ends of the digestive process. Smaller clams had imbedded themselves into the rocks and looked like part of them until you passed your hand over them and then they slammed shut. The tour also included a ride in a submersible submarine with glass sides. That choice meant that some of us could enjoy the reef life without getting our hair wet and a narrator filled us in on what we were seeing.
The sea was choppy and this made some folks fearful, but we two ex-lifeguards plunged in enthusiastically. With everyone wearing the same lycra suits, it was hard to keep an eye on each other, but we were the only people I noticed who did not bother with swimming vests, which we feel keep us too high up in the water. The water was a balmy 82º, but even with the suit, I got a bit cold, because there was so little work involved. Once we were on the reef, we bobbed in the waves and floated around enjoying the view. Many of the creatures we saw did not have to work hard either. The swirling water brought microscopic meals into their mouths. Back on the boat some folks got sea sick in the chop. The crew was quick to hand out barf bags and usher the ill outside, under the theory that fresh air cures what ails you.
For those who still felt like eating there was a morning muffin and coffee, hot lunch, afternoon cake and fruit and champagne, cheese and crackers as we sailed back into the harbor. There are many restaurants within walking distance of our hotel, but after all that food, we did not feel the need for dinner.