February 11, 2013
(Posted by Kristin, underwater photos by Emma at Wavelength)

The primary purpose of the whole stopover in Australia was to see the Great Barrier Reef. We didn’t schedule anything in advance just to give ourselves a little wiggle room with the weather and anything else that might pop up. Luckily we were able to get the last two spots on our tour of choice (shout out to Melissa for recommending Wavelength!) and off we went.

We were on a nice small boat with 30 people, including an A-one, very good-looking crew: John, our trusty skipper; Emma, the marine biologist/snorkeling guide (channeling a bit of Keira Knightley); and Tim, handsome snorkeling guide #2 (channeling some Ryan Reynolds).

We set out to sea on this gorgeous morning with blue skies, turquoise waters, and a gentle breeze. It took about an hour to get to our first of three stops, this one on St. Crispin’s reef. We dropped anchor, got our snorkel briefing, and donned our fashionable anti-jellyfish lycra suits.

I didn’t look quite as sporty in mine, so I will spare you the visual.

Next was the snorkel gear and off we went!

I opted for using the “noodle” to prop me up, while Xavier went freestyle since he likes diving down below the surface.

They gave us an hour, and warned us that it would go by quickly — how right they were. So much coral! So many different kinds, shapes and colors!

At first glance it all looked kind of brown, but in no time all the subtle colors and shading emerged — and then a brightly colored fish or school of fish would cruise by.

Xavier and I would try to get each other’s attention whenever we spotted something. I first spotted this bright blue starfish, but couldn’t get his attention for a few minutes. Once I finally caught up with him, I tried to lead him back to it…but it was not easy to find my way back.

And that is how the first hour went, discovering new and beautiful corals and fish at every turn. One of the more exciting finds was this pair of giant clams — these things were each about one meter wide!

A different one, close up.

In honor of the snowstorm that had just recently buried my NY friends in snow, I asked Emma if we were going to see a “Nemo” out there. She said that there was indeed one out there and she would make a special point of finding it for us. Earlier, I had trouble finding a blue starfish I had seen just a few minutes before, and she was able to make a beeline to little Nemo from the boat — it’s amazing to know the reef so well. Sure enough, at our second stop we joined Emma for her guided tour and she led us right to him — and there were two of them swimming around in their anemone!

And now close up, the solo shot!

Xavier takes a closer look.

The sad (and somewhat ironic) thing is that there are so few of these clownfish left in the reef since the Nemo movie made everyone want one in their home aquarium. There is now a huge fine for taking them out of the reef, but I am sure it still happens.

Emma showed us some other cool things on our tour. She let us feel a sea cucumber like this one.

And then our favorite, she told us about these sea cucumbers, which you should not touch because they freak out and spill their intestines out, which can sting and poison you, and get all over you and you can’t get them off for days. But then she proceeded to pick it up and demonstrate their intestine-ejecting skills…cool! Literally spilling its guts out!

She assured us that they grow back a new set pretty quickly, much like the lizard grows a new tail. We will take her word for it. We stuck with our general plan to just not touch anything.

On our third stop we were hoping to see turtles, but it was not to be. There was still plenty to see. I went noodle-free for this stop and we really savored this last hour as just another creature swimming over and around the beautiful corals.

And I got to drive the boat! (Very well, I might add…note crew not nervous at all.)

Between the on-board marine biology talks and the snorkel tours, we had learned so much since we first dropped into the water that morning. We could appreciate not only the physical beauty of what we were seeing, but also appreciate the beauty of how everything works together down there to create a healthy reef.

Let’s hope that we humans can also work together to put an end to the man-made conditions that threaten this wonder of the natural world. According to our guides, we have lost nearly 50% of the Great Barrier Reef over the last 20 years due to warming earth conditions and man made pollutants. It’s not too late…yet…

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