Great Barrier Reef

Without a doubt one of our most anticipated trips, almost anyone in the world who has access to a tv would have heard of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world. Long before we even planned on coming to Northern Queensland, the Reef was one of our bucket list destinations, I think the majority of us would have grown up with Sir David Attenbourough documentaries detailing the many wonders of the reef, the coral, the sea life and the fine line between them both that keeps it all in balance.

Our reef adventure started in the Marina at Port Douglas, our only issue was the kids had never even been on a boat before, or snorkelled for that matter so choosing the right reef trip was essential to making the whole experience painless. We chose the shortest trip possible with a 1000 hp speed boat taking us to the closest reef in half the time of any of the other operators. We flew out of Port Douglas Marina and were on our way to the Low Isles, as first described by James Cook in the 1700’s. The day was perfect, clear blue skies, not a breath of wind and the water was crystal clear, we couldn’t have asked for a better day of location to introduce the kids to snorkelling. We pulled up at the Low Isles and all had a lengthy discussion regarding stingers, The Irukandji jellyfish appears in Australia’s tropical waters every summer and can be deadly. We would all be wearing a full body stinger suit which covered hands, feet and head with only your face exposed to the water but covered by your snorkelling mask. The operator explained the risks, explained there had been someone stung by an Irukandji here at the Low Isles only a couple of days prior. The man who had been stung had snorkelled with his stinger suit on for a couple of hours and when he had finished snorkelling, he had removed his suit and went for a swim off of the beach, its not hard to imagine why this could be questionable. After our discussion we all transferred from the speed boat into a moored glass bottom boat and had our first introduction to the reef, massive coral outcrops, Giant clams, turtles and reef sharks all appeared beneath us as we slowly made our way towards shore, the amazing sites soon removing the thoughts of Irukandji from our minds.

The main island of the Low Isles is picture perfect, golden sands with tropical trees, an old lighthouse once manned but now operated by solar panels and LED lights dominated the islands interior. The lighthouse keeper’s buildings now home to rangers and researchers from the local university. The island was also home to flocks of sea birds in the middle of their breeding season, a safe haven away from mainland predators. We pulled onto the beach in our glass bottom boat and all disembarked. Energised by the sights we had just seen from the glass bottom boat we all put on our gear and made our way into the water. After only a couple of minutes we had cleared the beach and were out amongst the reef, the anticipation and expectation could not prepare you for how amazing it really is. The stands of coral were amazing and intertwined with each other seamlessly, fish of countless different species moved through and fed from the coral and paid no attention to the snorkellers above. Our main goal on the reef was to spot a turtle while snorkelling and by the end of the day we had spotted not one but four different turtles of different sizes and colourings. We planned ahead before starting our day and hired an underwater camera, we were lucky enough to get some amazing photo and video footage of the turtles and the reef in general. We were adopted by a massive Bat Fish, about the size of a hula hoop Bat fish regularly befriend snorkellers and divers. Our new friend followed us for a good fifteen minutes, coming in almost close enough to touch then swimming away only to reappear a minute later obviously very curious about what we were doing. The kids were amazing, already accomplished swimmers, they took to snorkelling like they had done it all their lives and we couldn’t be happier. We cant wait to return to the reef with them when they are older and explore more of the outer reef where the variety of fish and coral are much larger, the Low Isles is definitely a great starting point for beginners though so highly recommend. The kids grew weary and decided to head in and play in the sand on the beach. I was lucky enough to get some time alone in the water with the camera and made the most of exploring the deeper parts of the reserve. I found a grouping of Giant clams, all of which big enough to take your leg if you were foolish enough to try messing with them. Schools of rainbow coloured reef fish all went about their business without even noticing me nearby. I followed a turtle coming in from the deep right into the shallows with my video camera running, I watched him feed on the bottom but left him alone when a large group of snorkellers from another tour also managed to spot and swarm him. Feeling accomplished with what I had been able to see on my own I headed into the beach to join the kids and the rest of our group for a quick tour of the island before we headed back to Port Douglas.

Our guide hit us with a massive surprise with the first plainly painted shed we came across on the island tour. “This shed” he paused, “this shed is where Steve Irwin died”. Our hearts sank, this wasn’t in the brochure and part of me wished I had stayed out snorkelling because the thought stuck with me for the rest of the time we were in Port Douglas. Our guide continued by expanding on the story most of us already knew, Steve had been on the outer reef filming a documentary when the massive stingray had stuck him with his tail barb. The barb had lodged itself within his chest and Steve was still alive when they returned closer to land, stopping at the Low Isles as Steve was in to much pain to continue. The barb was removed from his chest, severing the arteries to his heart and in this little shed in the middle of the reef is where Steve Irwin, one of the most iconic Australians of all time passed away. Strangely, no memorial marks the site where this great man passed away, he is gone but always in the hearts of the many people he influenced with his outgoing and passionate personality. Rest in peace. The rest of the tour was a welcome distraction, we learned of the breeding colony, the research taking place on the island and about the role the inland reefs play in certain species reaching maturity before venturing out into the deep water reefs where larger predators roam. We finished our tour on the beach inland from a turtle feeding ground, there were at least six turtles feeding and the returning to surface in the shallow waters just off of the beach and we sat to watch them before making our way back to the glass bottom boat to start our return back to port.

Our leisurely stroll along the beach was cut short by our guide running towards us at full pace, he explained someone had been stung by an Irukandji and needed to get to hospital and urged us to run back to the boat. We ran along the beach and were met with a man already coughing and vomiting violently on the beach. This man wasn’t even part of our tour group, but their tour operator seemed to overwhelmed to know how to deal with him. Our guide stepped in to take control of the situation and we were soon all back on the boat with a clear warning that it wasn’t going to be a slow cruise back to shore to meet the ambulance. The man who had ben stung had followed the same course as the one who had been stung earlier in the week, he had removed his suit and gone back into the water. He had been stung across the neck which only amplified the symptoms, he lay at the back of the boat in agony, his wife helpless by his side. He was put straight onto oxygen, our boat was fully stocked with first aid gear just in case of emergencies like this. We weaved through the other returning vessels, all full of other snorkellers and divers and were back in town in about half the time it took us to get out. The man’s symptoms had intensified, and he was obviously struggling with the pain. He coughed as though his lungs had filled with liquid which made him continuously vomit, the ambulance met us at the jetty and paramedics were quickly on board to assess the man’s condition. After some quick tests, it was obvious he had Irukandji sickness and because of the location of his sting he would need to be taken straight to hospital in Cairns by helicopter. The paramedics transferred the man to the ambulance and were quickly on their way to meet the helicopter. The rest of us sat in shock for a minute to allow what had happened to process, this could have happened to any one of us. We made a deal to avoid snorkelling in the tropics during Irukandji season, having seen first hand what the effects were its not worth the risk. We disembarked our tour in the marina and made our way home after what ended up being the most eventful day we had had for quite a while. We needed to make sure we got a good spot for the fire works tonight and the start of a New Year tomorrow. #Reefsprinter #SteveIrwin #Shayneandnatasha #Aspringadventurers

- Aspiring adventurers

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