Australia Day 11- Reef Debrief

Note: From here I’m actually posting blog entries from back in the U.S., catching up, as Internet access was fairly limited over the second half of my trip. Still back-dating them to the day they should have been posted.

Over the past 3 days I’ve been on a 25-meter boat with about 40 other people (in English units, this is “kind of cramped”), doing pretty much nothing but eating, diving, and sleeping. I could get used to that life, actually. These were pretty much my first ocean dives, so it took me a dive or two to feel comfortable with what I was doing, but after that it was a blast.

Scuba diving isn’t the most relaxing activity in the world; part of your mind always has to keep track of where your buddy is, and stay aware of your depth and your air gauge. This was particularly problematic for me because the air tanks came in multiple sizes, and by random chance I was assigned the smallest size, which was about a third smaller than my diving partner’s. This meant it was always me who was cutting short the dive due to lack of air, watching my gauge, and willing it to go down less slowly. Oh well. That’s diving for you. Some people snorkeled, but pretty much everything interesting was over 20 feet down– much easier to access with an air tank.

Usually when I told someone I would be diving the Great Barrier Reef, the comment I got was either “Watch out for sharks!” or “Watch out for jellyfish!” Actually, there are no jellyfish on the Great Barrier Reef (at least not box jellyfish, which are the scourge along most of the coast). The reef is several miles offshore, and the jellyfish stay further in… on top of that, it wasn’t even jellyfish season. As for sharks, they were actually the shyest creatures on the reef… they almost always swim away when you get close (close in my experience was “about thirty feet”). The best time to see sharks was on the night dives, near the boat, when you could just see their green eyes hovering at the edge of the floodlights.

Ah, yes, the night dives.. here the objective wasn’t so much to see cool stuff (although that was certainly part of it), it was also the adrenaline rush that comes from diving into a pitch black ocean 60 feet deep. Actually, it wasn’t totally pitch black… the area around the boat was illuminated with flood lights, giving it a creepy greenish tinge. When we moved away from the boat, we had powerful flashlights with could reach several meters through the water, and this was mainly how we saw stuff. Navigating via compass was the hardest part, once you were out of sight of the boat… luckily my dive partners knew what they were doing, because more often than not I got lost (my scoutmasters who taught me orienteering would be ashamed).

Despite the supposed dangers of diving the reef, it was those “dangers” that we all looked for. Sharks, stingrays, barracuda, moray eels… those would always provide the best conversation back on the boat, but they were few and far between. Mostly we got to dive around cool coral formations and see lots of different small fish (the most photogenic ones were always the quickest and hardest to take pictures of), and the most serious injury anyone suffered was sunburn.

So all in all it was a fun dive trip, and I was sorry to see it end on the third day, right when I had finally gotten the hang of ocean diving, and had learned to extend my dives from 30 to 45 minutes by being more careful with my air and staying shallow. I actually preferred shallow dives, not just because you use up your air slower, but also because the colors are better. Colors fade very quickly underwater, and red fades first, which is why the photos I’ll post later are extremely dominated by blue and green. Usually when you see professional underwater video or photography, the scene is either artificially lit (since if the light source is with the diver, there is less distance for colors to fade over) or are filmed with a red filter (basically a red-tinted monocle for your camera).

My only worry now is that having started my ocean-diving career on the Great Barrier Reef, other places just won’t measure up by comparison…. like starting your mountain-climbing career with Everest. But every dive is its own experience, and I’d love to dive in the Caribbean and see how it compares. North Carolina’s coast may not have coral reefs, but it does have plenty of shipwrecks, which is something I didn’t see on the reef.

That isn’t my main concern right now, though: having lived on a small-ish boat for three straight days, I’d really just like the world to stop swaying…