Making Friends on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven Natural wonders of the world and the only one visible from space. There is a lot of hype about it and visitors have seriously high expectations. We went out and made some bubbles. I’m not sure if it was our fault for being overexcited, but our first dive, was not all we had hoped it would be.

The site was not uninteresting but it was a bit sparse. It was made worse because we spent a long time waiting around underwater before the dive itself began. That’s right, our dive suffered an attack of the muppets. Once our dive guide had descended, she realised that half the group were still on the surface. So, aware, that I am an instructor, I got asked to babysit the rest of the group. Not a problem. We obediently stayed put and we got cold as we sucked at our cylinders. Obviously this wasn’t the reef’s fault, but down to our fellow divers’ incompetence (two ‘all the gear and no idea’ type lads who once they had descended crashed all over the reef). It was annoying as we only really got half a dive.

Our second dive was far, far better. The reef still looked a bit wrecked though. I’m not sure if it was the result of extreme diver traffic or Cyclone Yasi’s visit at the beginning of the year. The dive staff insisted it was the after effect of the cyclone, but I didn’t expect them to proclaim it was the fault of the divers they take to the reef every day (not to their faces anyway). Both were probably to blame for the coral being in a bit of a state, but there were still lots of creatures.

Turtle, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

With everyone comfortable in the water, we quickly met a sneaky turtle hiding in the reef and shortly afterwards happened across a stingray, half buried in the sand and watching us with his beady eyes. There were smaller critters too, lionfish lurked in crevices, grouper being maintained at cleaning stations, butterflyfish milling, as angelfish flitted about and nudibranchs posed. Our dive was already heading for the record number of reef creatures seen on a single dive, when a white tip reef shark cruised quietly past and sealed the deal, to the delight and irritation of various members of the group. Delight for the ones who saw the shark. Irritation for those who missed it.

Stingray, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

To me, nothing feels better than leaving land far behind and heading out to sea. I love dive sites where all you can see in each direction is sea. We went to Agincourt Reef, which is on the outer Great Barrier Reef and a place that definitely fits into that category. The dive boats used around here are large, comfortable and reasonably fast catamarans with lots of seats, some sunbathing areas and dedicated diver preparation areas. Handy tip: It is best to stay outdoors until you’ve dried a bit or the A/C will get you! The boats carry lots of dive equipment. We were issued automatically with integrated dive computers on our consoles and stinger suits to wear under the short wetsuits. Some operators even dry fill cylinders onboard.

Clown Anemonefish, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

It is an easy going experience. Dive and boat staff were friendly and laidback. We were told we could do more dives and just pay the extra at the end of the day. There were snorkelers on the boat too and they were invited to snorkel at each of the three stops that the boat made. At our lunchtime spot they were met by a curious and very friendly Humphead Wrasse, the size of a cow. It was a friendly atmosphere onboard; we were even invited for seconds at the buffet lunch. Prawns…hmm!

Snorkelling, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Dives were kept shallow, which may not please everyone, but we were on a day trip. I expect it would be different on a liveaboard, where the staff get a chance to know you and your diving habits and may trust you a bit more.

We dived in May and it was about 22 degrees centigrade, which was colder than expected and the operator only provided shorties, so if you get cold quickly like me, I’d recommend taking your own wetsuit with you.

We enjoyed diving on the Great Barrier Reef, but it was not the lush, thriving reef that I had hoped it would be. If I was looking at recent cyclone damage or desperate and progressive wear and tear on the reef I’m not certain. However, the amount of reef life was wonderful.


  • Steve

    I’m glad your second dive was better than the first. I know it can be tough when you’re stuck with people that are slowing you down. It looks like you got to see a lot of good reef life. That stingray looks awesome. I got to see one up close snorkeling in Belize a few years ago. Belize wasn’t too cold though. I’m surprised at how cold you say it was.
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