IT isn’t surprising that the Great Barrier Reef is one of the top destinations for many travelers making their way around Australia. It is known to have the “world’s largest coral reef” and is a must-visit for avid scuba divers.
However, any traveler going to the reef will hear talk about the corals suffering the worst die-off late last year, which was around the time I visited the reef.
It was reported that scientists found about two-thirds of the corals in shallower waters of the reef dead due to warmer water temperatures.
Dr Anne Hogget, one of the directors of a marine life research site on Lizard Island, said the condition of the coral reef is in its worst state since 2002.
While this news may affect a traveler’s decision to make a visit to this popular dive location, it didn’t faze me too much.
As a diver, I was excited about visiting the Great Barrier Reef – although I wondered if I’d be able to see many corals or marine life. It was a chance to explore the reef, and I grabbed the opportunity to travel to Cairns while I had it.
One of the highlights of my trip was that I was able to catch coral spawning during a night snorkel. Coral spawning happens once a year at the Great Barrier Reef and is a process of coral reproduction where the eggs and sperm are released in the water, which looks like a colorful snowstorm occurring underwater.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t too colorful compared to the pictures I had seen in travel brochures. However I did see some specks in the water, which my dive guide explained were eggs and sperm from the corals.
That night, the corals were mostly still preparing to spawn. I still felt like one of the lucky ones for being there in the middle of the action. I was also able to spot a turtle swimming along the coral reef that night.
The next dive was during the daytime, and I was curious to see how the bleaching had affected the colors of the corals. I had to admit that some of the corals looked a little dull and slightly washed out, but there were still living corals that were home to many clown fish, surgeonfish and butterfly fish, to name a few.
It was an incredible sight to witness such a long stretch of corals that were orange, yellow, pink and purple, and we continued to swim along them. However, while they were living corals, I felt that their colors weren’t as vibrant as some of the pictures I had seen online.
We also spotted a few white-tipped reef sharks swimming in the ocean. I knew from experience that they weren’t harmful, but it always feels like they’re making a special appearance as sharks are one of the fishes every diver excitedly talks about after a dive if they come across one.
Overall, I would say that the coral bleaching didn’t affect my experience too much. I was able to see lots of marine life and the visibility of the waters was good.
However, I am concerned about the increasing water temperatures and its impact on the corals in the long run.
I spoke to our dive guides about this, and it was reassuring that they felt it isn’t a permanent problem; however, they said it may take a few decades to improve the conditions of the reef.
Tourism has been said to be a good thing for the reef as its success depends on the cleanliness and preservation of the reef. The tourism industry thrives on the reef, and in return, the health of the reef is dependent on tourist support; it’s a cycle of preservation that begins with the tourist.
A visit to the Great Barrier Reef can also make environmental activists out of travelers who can possibly spread awareness about coral bleaching, and to carry out conservation projects outside of the reef.
Despite that, the continuous bleaching on the reef may also result in negative impacts on the Australian tourism industry; if tourism takes a hit, it may cause the country to lose about US$1 billion a year and 10,000 jobs in regional Queensland.
If we don’t continuously support conservation projects, the Great Barrier Reef could be a thing of the past in the near future.