A dream come true -scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef 

12027267_10153751717989369_5487099083621595153_oIn 2013, I was in a queue to have my picture taken with George Takei at SXSW and I have the happy opportunity to meet Fabian Cousteau, who was behind me in line.

We chatted about the majesty of space exploration and the enchantment of our ocean.

Talking with Fabian inspired me to learn to scuba, and I immediately set my sights on the most impressive places in the world to do it – the Great Barrier Reef.

About the Reef:

It’s easy to think of the reef as a monolithic entity, but in actuality it’s a diverse ecosystem – the fish and coral and other sea life vary in different parts of the reef.

The reef is roughly divided into three sections – the Northern Great Barrier Reef, the Central Great Barrier Reef and the Southern Great Barrier Reef. I was staying in Cairns, and the dive trip I chose took us to two points on the Northern Great Barrier Reef.

Our first snorkel/dive of the day was at Saxon Reef, located in the Outer Reef. Saxon is a small reef, less than 2 kilometers. The diversity of fish life here was amazing! Lots of clown fish (I found Nemo!) among others. The water was warm and clear.

Our second dive of the day was Norman Reef. The reef was so much different here – the water was darker, and it sees like there were fewer varieties of fish. Norman Reef is located 70 kilometers off the east coast of Australia on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef along the continental shelf. We dove around the Fingers Mooring, where coral on the reef jut out like the fingers on a person’s hand.

Here’s a bunch of facts about the Great Barrier Reef.

http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/great-barrier-reef-facts.php

About the trip:

I picked Reef Experience because they were highly rated on Trip Advisor, and as always, Trip Advisor did not lead me astray.

Pick up came promptly at 7:30 am from my hostel. I met a fantastic mother-daughter duo Debbie and Bianca on the shuttle, and they became my company for the day. We kicked off the morning with briefings as well as a hot bacon and egg sandwich to build up some energy for the exciting day ahead. It’s about an hour boat ride to the first dive location. We were split into groups (I was group 9), and we snorkeled until it was our turn to slip on a tank.

I’ve taken an intro to diving class in DC, and that four hours paid dividends for this introductory dive, even though I’m not fully certified. For the first dive, the dive coaches test your key skills: replacing your mask under water, replacing your regulator if it’s knocked from your mouth (and most importantly remembering to breathe in the process), and of course, responding to the hand signs and instructions from your dive coach. I was a little rusty but a morning of snorkel goes a long way toward getting the breathing technique right. Breathing control is critical with scuba.

My first dive was brief, but the variety of fish and coral were so stunning, I knew I had to do a second dive. We were served an incredibly delicious lunch that was prepared right there on the boat, and then we were off to a second stop.

In the afternoon, we’re giving the option of a second dive (for a fee) or as much snorkel as you want.

This was my first real unassisted scuba dive but I found my place of zen in order to keep my breath steady- breathing too hard and too fast will cause you to burn through your oxygen tank faster. I rented an underwater camera for the dive.

It’s more challenging to swim along the reef without bumping into it than I first imagined. Hopefully I didn’t inadvertently knock off a piece of coral with a fin!

The hour or so boat ride back to shore was awesome- everyone remarked repeatedly that today must have been the best day of weather to be on the reef.

With the add-ons (second dive, camera rental, seasickness medicine [well worth the $3!] and the picture I bought from the on-board professional photographer), I ended up spending an additional $122 over the initial price of the tour. But for this once-in-a-lifetime experience? No regrets!

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