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Reef Report for Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Grief Itís The Great Barrier Reef!

This story was sent to us by Susan Atkins, one of our recent guests on a 3-day/2-night dive trip aboard Santa Maria. If this trip sounds like the perfect trip for you full details of this trip can be found here.

Our arrival in Australia from Papua New Guinea was a bit of an ordeal, due to some misinformation from our PNG friends. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises We were wearing two of our new necklaces made from seeds: a big no-no for entering Australia! Several hours later we considered ourselves quite lucky because those two necklaces were the only things they nailed us on and there was no fine since we were not trying to conceal them.

Finally, we made it thru and were off to the Great Barrier Reef on a live-aboard, the Santa Maria. This is not one of the hard core diver live aboard boats, but rather a sailing vessel which sleeps 10 guests. And Crystal and I were the only divers. That meant, we had a dive master all to ourselves - happily for us fraidy-cats (actually that would only be me.) We had been warned repeatedly that the reef has been bleached out by global warming and other harsh realities. We were pleased to see fabulously bright new corals growing (even though we did see some evidence of dead coral). From a distance some corals looked like they were harboring a giant Easter egg hunt, with clusters of light blue and chartreuse, and pink and orange coral nested in the larger, less colorful coral formations.

From giant coral formations to the tiniest of creatures, our four dives were superb. For three of our dives we stayed on the Thetford Reef at the Wall, the Blue Lagoon and Clam City. There I saw my first ever sea squirts. They made me laugh. They look like miniature, porcelain, hookah-smoking caterpillars. The most beautiful to me were the royal blue ones; there were also white ones and yellow ones.

I saw a giant green sea turtle swimming well above us. With the sun overhead, he was in perfect silhouette. We saw a Giant Red Emperor Fish, a Spotted Eel with a head the size of a football (under a rock fortunately), butterfly fish and bat fish, hundreds of jelly fish, but these were the harmless kind. We still steered clear of them, and could move them out of our way by gently pushing on their mushroom shaped tops.

Clam City was host to a ton of giant (I mean really big) clams!! They were purple and green, and about three or four feet long, a couple of feet deep and at least two feet across... huge!

The Blue Lagoon was host to the greatest diversity and abundance of fishes weíve ever seen. My favorites on this massive reef were the razor fish. No longer than an inch, they were in a little school and all wimming straight up, with their heads held high. They were really cute and not at all intimidated by our presence while we swam with them.

Our most spectacular dive on the Great Barrier Reef was on Milln Reef at The Three Sisters. I actually swam through a cave; we ambled through canyons. We saw a white tip shark. I know that reef sharks eat small fish, but still, theyíre a bit scary. This particular shark was sleeping on the bottom. Crystal said he started moving after we swam by; I'm glad I didnít see that!

There were cute little and big clown fish hiding out in some of the soft coral; photos do not do them justice. There were sweet lips, flute-mouth fish, as well as really big trout and bass. My favorite fish was the spotted ray that started bashing his head against the sea bottom after we passed. Apparently, thatís how they feed. I just thought he was sorry to see us go.

I saw a nudibranch crawling on a sea squirt. He was black and white, about an inch and a half long and looked a bit like a caterpillar (the non-hookah smoking kind.) I found out later that nudibranch means "naked lung". So looking at those tiny creatures was like watching something really small and inside out. The Three Sisters was my 20th dive, and probably my most unique in terms of varied marine life.

The live-aboard experience is well worth having, not for the food or the comfort but the water, the creatures, the opportunity to jump in and swim with whatever. We saw a huge pod of dolphins and slept under the stars on the deck of a gently rocking sailboat. If youíve seen Avatar, you have an idea of how trippy the jellies and soft coral can be. Well, the GBR is all that and a bag of chips!

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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