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.