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"I spent a morning in the world's first ScUber, on the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef."

I’ve spent the better part of 12 months trying to explain to my 93-year-old grandfather how Uber works.

We downloaded the app. I tried to explain how they know where he is and why he doesn’t need to pay them with cash from his wallet. (Dude… who still carries cash?)

We were making progress.

And then one week ago, I sent him a text message.

“Hey Pop! Just got off a ScUber. It’s like an Uber, but a submarine. We saw a turtle. Here’s a photo of me in it! It was driven by a pilot with a PlayStation controller and it’s battery powered. So cool! Talk soon xxx.”

Here’s what a ScUber looks like. Post continues. 

Video by Queensland Tourism

We did not talk soon, because my Pop is yet to reply.

I imagine that he read the message, then muttered “ScUber” to himself and shook his head with an air of irritation. He would’ve proceeded to consult his set of encyclopedias and flicked to ‘S’. When he couldn’t find it, he would’ve tsk-ed, and re-read the “it’s like an Uber but a submarine” portion of the message which would have really thrown him.

He’s probably read the message a dozen times a day since, and still – nope. No idea what it means. So he’s deleted it and returned to his paperback which you don’t need a goddamn app to access.

But if Pop thinks I’m done talking about my ScUber experience he is very, very wrong.

scuber-queensland
ScUber on Heron Island. Image supplied.
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What is it actually like inside a ScUber?

Available through the Uber app, you can order a ScUber, which will cost you $3000 for two people. That includes being picked up by an (actual) Uber, being ferried to Heron Island on a half hour helicopter ride and then spending an hour at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef - one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

If you've never been scuba diving, the experience will be like nothing else.

Sitting 15 metres below the surface, the ScUber explores parts of the world's largest coral reef system, providing at least 220 degrees of observation - including right under your feet.

From trumpetfish to damselfish, the marine life is vibrant and active, seemingly unperturbed by the battery powered submarine hovering amongst them.

But the highlight for me was a large turtle that emerged from the distance, swimming serenely around the ScUber, giving us a glimpse into the lives of one of the most resilient underwater creatures.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

In a #scuber and found a very lively turtle. #heronisland #scuber #thisisqueensland

A post shared by Jessie Stephens (@jessiestephens90) on

Hang on - is ScUber potentially damaging the Great Barrier Reef?

This was the question I asked before I even stepped foot on a plane to Queensland.

As David Attenborough put it, "The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger. The twin perils brought by climate change, an increase in the temperature of the ocean and its acidity, if they continue to rise at the present rate the reefs will be gone within decades and that would be a global catastrophe."

More than 8000 years old, the Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and between 2016 and 2018, we lost half of it.

The greatest threats are poor water quality caused by global warming and land-based runoff, the damage by the crown-of-thorns starfish, coastal development and fishing.

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scuber-queensland-australia
ScUber Queensland. Image supplied.

But Citizens of the Reef, led by Andy Ridley, the founder of Earth Hour, believes that the other enemy is apathy.

"Too many of us have responded to the reef’s threats with apathy rather than action. While the dangers are real and immediate, there is hope. But it is critical that more of us start taking action now," their website states.

Partnering with Queensland Tourism and Citizens of the Reef, Uber hopes to raise awareness and stimulate tourism to the reef, so that more Australians become passionate about protecting and conserving the reef for generations to come.

The ScUber itself is battery powered, meaning it does not damage the coral it explores. It also features two GoPros, which provide a window into the underwater ecosystem, putting together something called 'Reef tracks'. The footage supports reef research and monitoring, and essentially creates a map of the reef which spans more than 2,300 kilometres.

Uber has also donated $100,000 to Citizens of the Reef, as well as donating the value of every ScUber ride to the organisation.

Speaking to Mamamia, Ridley said tourism is key to conservation.

"At the moment we have this massive problem which is that most of the world think the reef is dead," Ridley said. "People start to just give up on the reef, one of the world's greatest natural icons," which could have catastrophic outcomes.

According to Ridley, tourism "is not a legitimate risk to the reef" given it's some of the most regulated in the world - and instead contributes enormously to its protection.

What he wants, more than anything, is for visitors to be inspired, be engaged and then act.

Because when you see the Great Barrier Reef up close, an underwater world of its own, you know there's no other choice but to save it.

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