Today we put our new knowledge gained from Reef Teach to use with a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef! It was approximately a 2 hour boat cruise to the outer reef, far enough from shore that it should be healthy, although one guide earlier in the trip predicted that we might see more damage compared to past years. Thankfully, we didn't find this to be the case.
The first dive site was spectacular! There were so many species and colors and shapes of coral. Giant boulder corals that had to have been hundreds of years old, and sharp, fast-growing stag horn coral, and great, huge plates of coral, and mountains of soft corals waving in the currents. A closer look revealed fish all over the reef; incredibly abundant, colorful, and busy. It looked like a living scene from "Finding Nemo." Students saw black-tipped reef sharks, anemone fish (Nemo and relatives), dozens of colorful species of large parrotfish crunching away at the algae and corals, and tiny butterflyfish darting around the reef. Those who took it slow were rewarded with sights of fabulous blue and electric green Giant Clams, slowly opening and closing the siphons and the scalloped edges of their enormous shells. We happened upon a sheltered spot where sea cucumbers gathered. Each was as large as a person's thigh, and they were black and warty, or pale with bumps, or covered with spiny-looking projections, or spotted like a leopard. Looking even closer, students discovered the unusual feeding tentacles of Christmas tree worms. These are polychaete annelid worms (related to earthworms, but distantly) that have a feeding structure that spirals up from their mouth like a Christmas tree. They are sedentary and live in tubes, and will withdraw their heads if threatened or if they detect shadows or water currents. Students were delighted to play with these colorful creatures that many people overlook.
The sheer diversity, abundance, fragility, and beauty of the reef was breathtaking, and the need to protect the world's oceans obvious to any who visit this World Heritage Site.