GBR and Daintree | Australia Adventure
Nov. 10 - 12, 2016
I'd never been diving, but I figured the Great Barrier Reef was a great place to try it out. Lindsey has her scuba certification, so we chose a tour that offered introductory and experienced dives. When we reached the first dive site, I suited up and tried to calm my nerves as I listened to the instructor explain how to use the equipment.
The going underwater part didn't faze me—I learned to swim around the same time I learned to walk. But the heavy tank was new, and I wasn't used to breathing regularly underwater. The instructor motioned with his hand, reminding us to take deep, steady breaths as we climbed hand over hand down the rope toward the bottom. In. Out. In. Out.
Twelve meters under, scuba diving felt like meditation. I focused on my breathing, the only sound that cut through the still water. I forgot about the hordes of snorkelers above us as I took in the vibrant coral. I stared at the fish my instructor pointed out as they swam by. Weighed down by my tank and weight belt, I moved much more slowly than they did, but I almost felt like one of them.
On our second day on the reef, I opted to snorkel instead of dive. (This ended up being a good call since I was recovering from a sinus infection and had a hard time popping my ears.) I grew up snorkeling. When I was young, my family would drive down to the Florida Keys, where my dad would tie a rope to my life jacket and let me paddle around behind the boat. When I was a little older, we went to the Bahamas, where my sister and I would squeal bubbles and clutch each other's hands every time we saw a reef shark or barracuda.
But it had been a long time since I'd been snorkeling. I'd forgotten how at home I felt in the water.
The Great Barrier Reef is dying, but it's still gorgeous. I passed over patches of dead coral, but there were also huge hunks of colorful coral, very much alive. I swam out away from the other snorkelers in hopes of seeing more signs of life. And I wasn't disappointed. I passed over fish I'd only ever seen in guidebooks and Finding Nemo—clown fish, small reef sharks, a moral eel almost as long as me, a huge Maori wrasse that gave me a sidelong glance and swam away from me (I followed it for a while). At several points, I could hear dozens of huge, multi-colored parrotfish chomping on coral before I even caught sight of them.
The reef was a dazzling reminder of the beauty of the world, but also its brokenness. One of the instructors told us that about 20 percent of the reef's coral died just in 2016. Scientists think much of the bleaching is due to climate change.
That second day on the reef, I'd unintentionally made a snorkeling buddy. He'd been swimming far out like I had, away from the rest of the crowd. Without speaking, we'd looked around for each other every few minutes, figuring that we were OK this far out as long as one other person was close by. Back on the boat, I found him and we chatted on the way back in to the port. He was from France. We talked about the fish we'd seen, and the dead coral. We talked about our lives back home, and about politics—the unfortunate racism and fear driving the elections in our respective countries.
We looked out at the silhouettes of mountains speeding past on the horizon, on the sun beating down from the incredibly blue sky. What a strange, beautiful, messed up world we live in, we mused.