The dry taste of the compressed air; the preparation time of the equipment; the awkwardness of putting on a wetsuit and having to drag twenty kilos of scuba tank on my back are just a few of the exercises I must put up with for a dive into the blue for a short forty minutes of underwater adventure. Not to mention the feeling of being under tremendous gravitational pressure and the uncomfortable feeling of possible claustrophobia. Yet I keep coming back for more.
I base myself in Cairns, the capital ground for visiting the northern tropical part of the Great Barrier Reef, where the waters are at a warm twenty-five degrees Celsius in the Australian winter. As I line up at the register of the local diving shop, I am joined by both experienced and amateur divers from around the world, ready to explore all the reef’s treasures.
I try not to think of the negatives as I board the 50 person M.V. ScubaPro. The sun shines openly in the cloudless sky, and the white, spotless vessel head to our first reef destination. Forgetting the time, I lie sunbathing on the open deck with my fellow divers, listening to the whoosh of the waters as our boat clashes with the waves.
The rocking of the deck stops and I sheepishly lift my head, our dive guide stands over me, ushering me to join the others to prepare for our dive.
Remember to breath, our guide reminds us, and cheerfully jumps into the water. I notice the shadow of a small reef shark as I struggle into my wetsuit, which distress me greatly. With excitement and anxiety, we slide on our masks and with the regulators in our mouth, we splash into the warm water of tropical Queensland.
Scuba diving is one of the must-do activities when in Cairns, along with sky-diving and white water rafting, as well as visiting the Daintree rainforest. Local dive operators provide certified courses as well as operate day trips out to the Great Barrier Reef. It is the world’s largest coral reef, stretching 2,300 km from north to the south, is part of the seven Natural Wonders, and is an underwater ecstasy. It is said to be alive with around 400 species of coral, 2,000 species of fish and countless number of aquatic invertebrates.
This is a completely different world, I think to myself as we descend into the depth of the ocean. All sounds are drowned by this mass body of water and my Darth Vader like breathing. I try to orientate myself in this blue mass of liquid as a dark shadow cast slowly over my head. Unsure of what it is, I flap my fins, pushing myself to get closer to our leader.
I become more relaxed after the initial few minutes, and I begin to appreciate this natural wonder. Our dive site is called Milln Reef. Three large bommies, individual pillars of coral collection, parades stiffly, yet full of life, next to each other. As we silently slice through the water, circling each individual bommie, I was confronted by creatures I would normally only associate with biology text books or National Geographic. We cruise through coral gardens of blue yellow and red, dotted with giant clams with furry lips soft to the touch. Sea stars and cucumbers, hanging about like Christmas tree decoration around the alien brain corals. It is a landscape of outer space-like scenery. I scan about and fascinate myself with a small school of Nemos , or anemonefish so scientifically called. The bright orange slimies pecked about a patch of soft corals, oblivious of the watchful eyes of a goggled intruder. As I ponder on the name of a strangely looking fish closing up to the scene with a red striped body with two oddly proportioned eyes, a large green turtles gracefully swims across, arrogant and importantly breaking up a school of darting snappers. I suppress my urge to chase after the turtle and kept my course to our leader, who is pointing to a curious moray eel, opening and closing its mouth in a chewing motion, peaking out of its hole. I am enjoying myself so much, I did not even realise I am twenty metres under water.
Our air tanks are running low and we slowly ascend, making our way back to the boat. It was rush hour in this underwater world and the fish traffic suddenly picked up. A train of Fusilier speed across our path, a wrasse and a groper superciliously glide into their tracks like trucks merging into traffic, while we, tourists to the underwater environment, watch in amusement as this familiar movement unfold in this foreign world.
Back on board, I peel off my wetsuit, reliving my skin to fresh salty air. I write down everything that I saw like a school child back from an excursion. A few divers sit back on the desk and discuss the environmental situation that we may face in the next twenty years, when the water temperature rises so much, that the Great Barrier Reef may be destroyed. I become saddened by the thought that maybe soon, our next generation will not be able to experience this wonderful paradise.