I think we have arrived in paradise. Literally, that is what I thought when I stepped off the catamaran and onto the dock of Heron Island yesterday afternoon. I am sure my classmates felt the same way. If the two hour boat ride with views of sea turtles, jellies, and sea birds wasn't enough to get environmental science and biology students excited, then the first snorkel within hours of arriving most definitely was.
In less than a few seconds of putting my face under the water, I saw fishes, and I am not going to lie, it surprised me. This may seem silly, but it was my first snorkel experience ever, and I didn't know what to expect. My classmates and I have come to figure out that on The Great Barrier Reef, one needs to expect visual stimulation - to the max! Being in the water and watching the world beneath you is captivating and overwhelming, but in the best way possible. There is so much to look at that your eyes almost don't know which way to look first. Imagine scenes of Finding Nemo (as cliche as that may sound), but in real life. No joke. Every color of the rainbow surrounds you as fishes swim by, hardly paying you any attention. Parrotfish scrape coral, schools of fish swim past by the thousands, and turtles soar effortlessly through the water while you try to keep your jaw from dropping in awe. It is hard to keep from smiling underwater which is terrible because when you smile, water fills up the nose cavity in your mask. Let's just say that snorting salt water is painful, but totally worth it.
Today, we had two main activities scheduled: a plant zonation of the island and a boat snorkel facilitated by the Heron Island Research Station (HIRS) where we are staying. During our plant zonation activity, we discovered how plant species change on the island by performing line transects. We began on the beach and moved inland on the island. In addition, we had the chance to work on our tans due to the intense heat! Bonus.
After lunch, we met Pete, Master Diver and Head Boatsman of HIRS, and embarked on our first boat snorkeling adventure. We set out to a site called The Blue Pools, and for the very first part of our journey, it looked like we headed out into the deep, blue open ocean. Not to worry, Pete knew the way, and in no time we could see the brown structures under green water indicating corals and a shallow area. Our 75 minute snorkel flew by, and we headed back to the island. I'm not going to lie, it was hard to get out of the water!
In being here less than 48hrs, many of us have seen our first sea turtles, sharks, and more fishes than we ever thought possible. This seems like more than the average person gets to see in a lifetime, and our time here is not even close to over. There is so much more to experience. Tomorrow is another full day of thrills, adventures, and salty water, but for now, it is time to lay back in our bunks and fall asleep to the howls of the shearwater sea birds.
From a paradise down under,
Senior Environmental Studies Major