What does it take to get to an island where many species of marine life call home, coral reefs thrive, birds chirp happily all day long and you forget any and all worries you could possibly have? A small propeller plane that seats about 10 people and a ride of a lifetime.
On Friday, June 3rd, my study abroad mates and I boarded the small plane that would take us to a place unlike any other, Lady Elliot Island. We buckled our seat belts, took some deep breaths and were off!
Before we knew it we saw clouds all around us, waves crashing into one another in the ocean below and a beautiful piece of green island that was surrounded by an aura of reefs. This island is the place we were fortunate to call home for four days.
We got off the plane and were greeted by the kind staff and an amazing breeze that carried a fresh scent.
After a quick introduction to the island we got ready and walked to the western side of it to get on a boat and have our first snorkel!
Seeing as to how it was sprinkling here and there and it was a bit windy it was “not ideal conditions” to snorkel but it was not bad conditions either so we headed out anyway.
I am a lover of all bodies of waters and the species that inhabit it. I am also constantly intrigued by it; the mysteries it holds and the things we can learn from it. So it is safe to say that I was extremely giddy about going out and having my first snorkel ever within the Great Barrier Reef.
The boat stopped. We got our mask and fins on and jumped in.
AHHHHH!!!??? Is all that was going through my mind. I was so excited that I completely ignored the fact that I had never used a snorkeling mask before and did not really know how to breathe through it. Of course Dr. Tyrone Ridgway, our guide who I will talk about later on in this blog, explained to us the basics of how to do it and warned us about hearing our breathing but my mind was processing everything else that it hardly caught that. I was trying to breathe through my nose (which of course is not possible because the mask is covering it) and was freaking out just a little bit.
However, I cleared my mind and then it clicked that there was a mouthpiece for a reason (face palm). I began steading my breathing to prevent from swallowing more salt water and then focused on not being pushed by the waves too much so that I could swim out to where everyone else was headed and enjoy the view and life that was all around me.
After a few minutes, I felt like I somewhat had the hang of it so I popped my head under the water and saw a whole new world. It was amazing. It was unreal. It was something that I could have never imagined seeing in person but am so grateful I did.
If I had not been submerged in the water I would have let happy tears escape from my watering eyes.
There was life everywhere in colors from all over the spectrum. Fish of all shapes and sizes were going about their day and corals were spread out throughout the floor. I kept swimming, taking in every single piece of the underwater world and when I popped my head back up I heard Cameron say, “there’s a shark over here.” I froze. I was both wanting to see it and wishing to swim away. In less than a few seconds I found myself actually swimming towards her to get a look because thinking back to what we had learned about them during the introduction they are harmless and keep to themselves.
It was majestic. It paid no attention to us and quickly glided away. My heart wanted to leap out of my chest because I could not believe all that I was experiencing in just the first few minutes of the snorkel. It all felt like a dream!
After exploring for a bit we swam back to the boat and concluded the most amazing first snorkel ever.
It only took one snorkel for us to fall in love with the activity so for the following days we woke up when the sun rose to catch a morning snorkel in the lagoon, where at high tide you are swimming so close to the reefs and at low tide you could actually walk the area (very carefully) to explore more of it and its beautiful inhabitants.
Aside from snorkeling we experienced and learned about the island through lectures, tours and conversations.
Tyrone has extensive knowledge on coral reefs and has been involved with the project management of the Climate Change Action Plan and programs such as the Reef Health Impact Survey and Bleach Watch programs. Throughout our stay at LEI we were lucky to learn many things from him such as the marine life found at the island, the importance of corals and how they are experiencing many changes that could alter life under and above water immensely and how our actions can either help or hurt them.
Climate change is an issue that holds much importance in my heart. In the United States we are lucky that we have not yet experienced catastrophic environmental events that are as impactful such as other countries have because of the changing climate. So although I care deeply about the problem I never really could imagine what all would happen as a result of it.
However, hearing Tyrone speak about the reef, spending time immersed in it and walking on the crushed up coral as well as seeing the skeletons it has left behind opened up my imagination to how it would all look bleached and dead. My heart aches just thinking about it.
There IS hope though. Tyrone would occasionally apologize for being a Debby Downer when teaching us about the impacts that some reefs have already experienced and what it in turn has done to the marine life, tourism, jobs and more. He was no downer though he was only being truthful and then would ease the pain of the harsh realities by speaking about the ways we could help and how reefs are working hard to stay thriving.
Reefs are effected by a variety of things, landscape development, fishing, rising sea levels and temperatures as well as natural disasters. You would not believe it but it all ties to human impacts.
So, how can we help? Same way we can help our whole planet! Reduce, reuse, recycle, purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, lowering the amount of meat consumed, saving energy by turning lights off when unneeded and using energy efficient lightbulbs (that will in turn save some money), driving less or carpooling whenever possible and spreading the word!
I am not great with sharing many things but things that matter to me are well known by those around me. I have slowly but surely been changing things in my life to be more environmentally friendly. The world we live in and share with other species is precious and can continue being this way for years to come!
P.S. Expect another post about all the cute encounters I had with marine wildlife that filled my heart as well as more details on what we experienced day by day!