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The Great Barrier Reef

by Den Lewis

Reproduced from in focus 14 (February 1986)

That well known T.V. reporter, Anneka Rice, put it in a nutshell when, whilst standing on the reef, stated 'If you don't come now you may be too late'.

So I packed my bags and went for the month of October, 1985, which is supposed to be the time for calm glassy seas. The first venture was on Mike Ball's 'Vatersport', leaving Townsville for 7 days' placid diving in the Coral Sea. Unfortunately nature decided otherwise and the wind rose to 25 knots, giving high seas, to which the twin hull of the boat was not suited and caused it to pitch and roll at an alarming rate (definately not for queasy stomachs), Unable to reach the Coral Sea, we visited the inner reefs, the first being Grub Reef.

On diving, I could not believe that it was the Barrier Reef. There was a distinct abscence of fish and the corals looked dead. It was the same on the night dive at Faraday Reef, no crinoids, not even featherstars. No change at Myrmidon Reef, and John Brewer Reef was sand coated, but there were more fish, probably due to being fed by tourists in glass bottomed boats. Only when we reached Coil Reef and Wheeler Reef did things improve, with bright corals and plenty of fish.

That evening, the reason for the desolate reefs became apparent as the rest of the divers - Australians -unloaded (Iift harpoon guns and went in search of unlucky victims. The same. thing happened every evening, except when we dived on the wreck of the 'Yongola', which is a preserved area. No line fishing, trawls or spearfishing were permitted, and here were gathered all the fish, real big 'uns, sea snakes, eagle rays, tawny sharks and bat fish, to name a few. This time they did not retreat when the camera was raised to take a picture, in fact they posed, except the snakes, which preferred to swim between our legs.

By now, an the 6th and 7th days, the sea became calm and we windsurfed some 25 miles out to sea, the water was warmer and we no longer shivered in our 4mm wet-suits, Things could only now improve as we coached up to Cairns and, after two days of sight-seeing, boarded the 'Bali Hai 11' for 10 days on the Ribbon Reefs, The skipper, Gordon Oke, steamed all afternoon and night to drop us at Hilda's Reef, Here some of the corals were dead and there was not much life as compared to the Red Sea. Out of a maximum of 8 divers, only 3 of us were on board for this trip, so we had room to spare. The meals were excellent and we enjoyed wine with every evening meal.

Day by day, we worked our way through Hick's Reef, Day Reef and Yonge Reef. By now my two Hauticas and Nikonos V with an SBI03 flashgun, were working overtime. We still found the fish to be very shy and the occasional white-tipped reef shark passed us by. We saw no Manta's or Whale sharks.

The highlight of the trip was Cod Hole, here the 400 lb Potato Cod charged in like tanks to be fed and petted, and the Subawider lens had to be fitted because they came so close. At one spot some 50 bright yellow Gaterins, 18' in length, posed side by side over a large bommie, and Gordon was able to place his Nikonos V and 15 mm lens right up their noses (Guess who had run out of film by then!).

We concluded our trip with a week in the Brisbane State Forest, way down in Melbourne, photographing Kangaroos, Wallabies and Koala Bears. So, in fact, we did enjoy ourselves, but the Barrier Reef needs to be protected before its too late. You can't beat the Red Sea for corals, the Maldives for the numbers and colours of fish and the best place to meet the most sharks. Mind you, the Great Barrier Reef is a big place and I'm sure it has much to offer, depending on the time of year.

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