Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is actually a reef system, consists of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands covering some 344,400 square km (132,974 sq. mi) and stretching some 2,600 km (1,616 mi) along the Queensland coast. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is ranked "the largest structure made by living thing." Over some 24 millions years, countless generations of small sea anemone-like organisms've accumulated their calcium carbonate skeletons, each contributed a tiny grain to build this breath-taking natural wonder. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest, most exciting, and most colorful playground for divers and snorkelers. Here you'll find some 400 species of corals, 1,500 species of fishes, and nearly 5,000 species of mollusc...

To visit the heart of the Great Barrier Reef we started our boat tour from Port Douglas, a small town at the coast of far north Queensland.

Our boat sailed past Low Isle (1st 2 pix), where Steve Irwin the croc hunter was accidentally stabbed to death (Sept 4th, 2006) by a stingray, usually considered a harmless fish. The accident was "extreme bad luck" as one Australian put it, but it reminds us how dangerous Australia can be. Of the 10 most lethal snakes in the world, Australian snakes usually claim 5 and 6 spots depending on the sources you consult. And then there're little lethal creatures like the funnel web spiders; even the tiny jumper ants can deliver a murderous sting. And of course how can we forget the huge saltwater crocodiles who can drag their prey into water in the blink of eyes... By the way, the reason we're going so far off the shore is not only to find a better snorkeling or diving spot, but also to avoid herds of box jelly fish, another lethal creature with its venomous stings. In this season they crowded the shallow water near the beach (even out in the reef I saw a couple box jellies drift by, but fortunately nothing happened to me). But still, away from the shore doesn't exempt us from sea snake bite or reef shark attack. Who knows, even a supposedly harmless fish like a stingray can deliver a fatal stab in the heart... a bit unnerved, we nonetheless moved on... and dipped into the water.

...and then we forgot all about all the dangers, and pretty much everything else. This is must be the most gorgeous, most colorful, dreamy thing mother nature ever created. Swimming over these riveting landscape, we were just...mesmerized.

 

We swam over giant Forests of antlers...

...garden of flowers...

... vegetables...

... mushrooms...

...rocks of peculiar shapes and colors...

...and of course schools and schools of fishes, big and small, dress in all short of colors.

Sometimes we're surprised by a huge Green Sea Turtle.

...sometimes we can spot a astonishingly large Giant Clam, the largest mollusc in the world. They look dark or colorful because of the algae living on the shell. They can reach up to 1.2m (4 feet) across and weigh up to 227kg (400lbs). That's an awful lot of clam chowder.

 

Unfortunately, the days of these pretty coral are numbered, because of climate changes. Coral is very sensitive to temperature. At rising temperature they first "bleach" due to loss of algae that live inside the coral. Without these algae, the whole coral ecosystem may eventually collapse. Pollution and over-fishing in the coral sea also contribute to the decline. It's been projected by researchers in Queensland University that at the worst-case scenario, the Great Barrier Reef will become history by the end of this century...

 

At last, a small episode about those reef photos. During our last diving/snorkeling trip, I accidentally dropped my underwater camera, in the middle of the reef, some 30 miles from the coast. I was pretty sure that it would be lost forever. It was not so much about the camera, but mostly my pretty underwater shots, some 400 of them, almost 2 Gb. So with that slight regret, I returned to the U.S. You know what, sometimes miracle happens. A little more than a week later, I got a long distant call all the way from Rum Runner, the company I went to the reef with. One of the diving coaches found my camera during one of his diving trip! Now consider this: at that single spot in the coral sea, 30 miles from the coast, some 25 feet deep of water, I dropped that little camera. It was not carried away by currents; it was not covered by any dirt or vegetation or coral; it was not swallow by sharks or giant clams; and a week later, some one found it! What are the odds! They shipped the camera back to me. After sitting at the bottom of the ocean for a week, the waterproof housing and the camera still works properly. And my shots, as you see above, were recovered. That was the most dramatic incident of this Australian trip. And I would recommend those Rum Runner guys to any of you who wants to get to the reef from Cape Tribulation.

 

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