Rated one of the seven wonders of the world, and protected as a World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is imagined to be filled with colorful corals, an abundance of fish, and home to other marine mammals. Being an experience diver, and having dove all over the world, the Great Barrier Reefs were sure a disappointment when I traveled there back in July 2014. Everything I had come to imagine about diving in this once top diving site, was not what I experienced. Usually the hardest part about my dives include the struggle to fit into my wetsuit but not this time.
Descending down the water column, I look below me at the coral reef . Having studied issues in the marine environment for years, I immediately notice how bleached the corals look. For the newer divers in the group, it was exciting for them to see one parrot fish eating the reef or scaring the christmas tree worms back in their holes, but for me this was disheartening. The hardest part about this dive was accepting this reality, compared to my expectations. I see more colors, fish and life on the reef just in South Florida, and our reefs do not nearly have the same ‘prestigious’ reputation as the Great Barrier Reefs.
Now the crew upon this day trip dive vessel was extremely nice, educated, and helpful but the dive location was not ideal. I believe the reef is suffering because everyday these large vessels are taking out hundreds of people to scuba dive and snorkel in the same area. People will, subconsciously and conscientiously, hurt the reef by kicking it and exposing it to harmful chemicals from their bodies. For instance, people will put on sunscreen then jump into the ocean not knowing that the toxic chemicals are too harsh for the fragile corals, exposing the corals to ocean acidification. Ocean acidification can come from a number of different sources, but this is a crucial event that people need to be more aware of, because without coral reefs our lives as human beings are even at risk.
Now before I totally turn you away from diving at the Great Barrier Reefs, I was given the names of some worthy dive sites from some local Aussies. These included diving the famous wreck S.S. Yongala and Osprey Reef. The desirable diving resides way out in the reef, therefore one must go on a ‘live aboard’ ship for a few nights to get the best diving.
Another area for divers, or ocean enthusiast to visit include the Whitsunday Islands. It is off the coast of Australia’s northern state, Queensland. When you dive at the Whitsunday’s you are technically diving the outskirts of the Great Barrier Reef, but this is where I had one of my most memorable dives to date. When I was there in July it was whale season, and while I did not personally see any whales I could hear them underwater during my dive. The whales come to the warm, protected, calm waters of the Whitsunday Islands, typically between to months of June to September, to give birth to their calves. During this time, I stayed on a ‘live abroad’ and had the unique opportunity of seeing a threatened dugong (related to the manatee) in the wild. Standing on the island, I looked around at all the tropical forest, sanding in powder soft sand, and swimming in the crystal blue waters I realized this is the Australia I came to experience.
By Erica Allen, Diver and Ecologist