travel

'The best day of my life was on the Great Barrier Reef. But I'll never take my kids there.'

It was a last minute decision 20 years ago. I was travelling in Queensland with my water-fearing mother and decided to book a quick side trip to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. When I got to the wharf, I saw the massive tourist boat I was booked on – with about 200 people on board. This was not the wilderness experience I was looking for.

Then, I saw a small diving boat with about 6 people at the end of the pier. I ran up and begged them to take me. They asked if I could scuba dive. “Yes”, I lied, and off we went.

It was a perfect day. No wind. Low tide. Seemingly no gap between the sky and sea. We skipped to the outer reef and we were the only boat to be seen. Once I admitted I’d never actually scuba dived before, a tanned 20-year-old blonde named Jade offered to take me on a buddy dive – just six metres down. I sheepishly agreed.

With equipment on, and a few tips, we slowly went down a rope. Three metres down and I was already awe struck. It was like being in an enormous tropical fish tank. The coral was dazzling, the colours a kaleidoscope in the sun that streamed through the pristine, clear water. We were surrounded by fish, sharks, rays. Honest to God, I almost cried.

On the way back to port, the dive masters kept repeating what perfect conditions we’d had. And then, just to cap it all off, two whales breached right next to us, leaping and spraying in apparent reflection of my joy.

Since that day I learnt to scuba dive. I dived in Hawaii, Fiji, Thailand, Malaysia and the Maldives. Nothing comes close to the Reef. Even in the Maldives, the coral was bleached. In Malaysia in 2003, they were still dynamite fishing – literally blowing up coral just near our dive site. In Fiji, the were more sea cucumbers than fish. In Thailand, there were so many tourists that were kicking and breaking coral, that there was more debris than live animals.

ADVERTISEMENT

More than anything I’d love to re-live that day on the Reef and share it with my children. But I can’t visit there in good conscience.

With two massive bleaching events and, it seems, another on the way this summer, I’m left with the choice of either seeing the destruction or, contributing to the destruction of the living coral that is still left.

Half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead with little hope of recovery. I worry about the greenhouse gases that I would burn on the trip there and the pollution I’d create on shore. Then there’s the inadvertent damage done to the reef by the scores of tourists – a tourist trade that I would be supporting through my visit.

I’d feel better about the future of the Reef if our own government didn’t prioritise its addiction to fossil fuels over its survival. Just last week (11 Dec), at the COP24 climate talks in Poland our so-called ‘Ambassador for the Environment’, Patrick Suckling, was the only non-American panellist to front a pro fossil fuel event organised by the Trump administration, stating “Fossil fuels are projected to be a source of energy for a significant time to come”.

The COP24 conference itself reaffirmed the target of limiting temperature rise to 1-2% but that won’t save the Reef anyway. Temperature spikes are already at 1% from pre-industrial times – a level at which bleaching occurs.

And my children? Do I show them the beauty of the Reef, just so they can see it destroyed in their lifetime? Maybe it’s better they never know the treasure we’ve all lost.

Belinda Noble MLead BAComm, is a communications and management consultant @BeNoblePR

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???