The absolute highlight of our two day visit to Cairns (pronounced “cans”) was the day we spent with Sunlover Reef Tours at the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest continuous coral reef system on Earth. It is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,500 miles and an area of approximately 130,000 square miles. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef is home to an incredible array of sea life, including thousands of varieties of fish, hundreds of species of colorful hard corals, and one-third of the world’s soft corals.
Sunlover offers outstanding options to explore the reef. We boarded their large, comfortable catamaran in Cairns, and settled back for the hour-long journey to the permanent pontoon marine base at the reef. En route, a marine biologist shared interesting information about the reef, and described the various options available to explore the reef including snorkeling, a glass-bottomed boat, diving instruction, and individual and group tours. We opted for snorkeling on our own, and Denise rented a water-proof camera to practice her underwater photo skills (heretofore untested!) We learned so much about the different varieties of corals and sea life, and the natural and man-made threats to this magnificent place. We also learned that conservationists and scientists with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are concerned that building heat is threatening more coral bleaching along the reef on Queensland’s north coast by destroying the reef’s colorful algae, leaving the coral to starve to death. He added that if temperatures don’t drop from current levels over the next two weeks, the reef is likely to experience the third “mass bleaching event” in five years, noting that 2020 is likely to be the most extensive coral bleaching event to date. We were therefore instructed to be extremely careful to avoid touching the delicate, vulnerable coral in any way.
Upon arrival at the marine base, we were fitted for mandatory stinger suits (it’s jellyfish season!), masks, snorkels, fins, and life vests. Once “suited up,” we made our way into the water for a truly extraordinary experience.
Our time in the water literally flew by! Mesmerized by the marine life and astonishing variety of coral, we were surprised when we realized we had been in the water for over two hours! The underwater camera worked pretty well, so here is a sampling of the photos Denise captured. Note the photos of white, bony coral which sadly show that coral bleaching is real.
Back on board the catamaran, we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch and swapped stories of what we had experienced with our fellow passengers.
We’re so thrilled and grateful to have been able to enjoy the beauty and magic of this astonishing part of the world.