Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Saturday, October 19, 2013

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
–Mary Anne Radmache

“If you’ve ever been sea sick or don’t know if you are, take the tablets,” our guide nicknamed Irish informed us, handing us motion sickness pills as we set sail on our rocky boat to the Great Barrier Reef. For three hours we held on tight as our boat swayed violently back and forth over the choppy waters of the “Lagoon”. I watched as my fellow passengers turned green and hurled over the sides of the boat. Climbing the stairs up to the top deck, I looked out over the rough waters that stretched across the horizon. With the sea breeze dancing in my hair, I breathed in the salty air and felt a familiar sense of excitement take hold of me. I was embarking on yet another adventure of a lifetime, and fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams- Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef.

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Our first dive was Tracy’s Bommie at Milln Reef. Irish gave us a quick refresher course in scuba diving. It had been over a year since I went diving in Thailand, and I was a bit rusty. After a few minutes debriefing the dive site, we strapped on our scuba diving equipment and jumped in! At first I was nervous, as I had not dived in such a long time, but I quickly remembered all of my training and became comfortable once again underwater. Soon enough, I felt like a mermaid swimming through though most beautiful reef in the world. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world, and so big that it can be seen from space!

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There were so many beautiful coral and colorful fish swimming before my eyes; butterfly fish, damsel and moon wrasse, yellow-tailed fusilier and barracuda…we even spotted a turtle! My diving buddy (and partner) Taylor saw him first and we started to swim after him. He seemed so close at first, but as we swam in the open water I started to feel afraid and we turned back.

On our second dive, as we were swimming through bommies of brightly colored reef, there was a little baby turtle! He busily munched away at the coral while we swam with him, taking photos and just enjoying being in his presence. He was no bigger than a dog, and cute as can be! He swam right up to me, curious at his own reflection in my goggles.

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We completed 11 dives on our live-aboard trip, including 2 night dives! There is nothing more exhilarating than jumping off a boat into cold, pitch black water, especially when it’s full of sharks!

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Irish debriefed us on our second night dive, then pointed out into the water,

“Oh look, Sharks!” 

We looked over the side of the boat to see sharks splashing around in the water, out hunting for their dinner. “Alright!” Irish called out, “Time to suit up! Let’s go diving!” I looked at Taylor and felt an awesome rush of adrenaline and excitement. I never felt so alive, or so scared! Here I was, the night before my 27th birthday, about to jump into the ocean…with SHARKS!?

Irish blasted Metallica as we suited up in our dive gear. “Hush little baby don’t say a word, and nevermind that noise you heard…” I pulled on my wet suit and strapped on my BCD unit. “It’s just the beast under your bed…” I rechecked my air and did the Final Okay to jump overboard. “Exit light! Enter Night!” Irish handed me a torch (flashlight for all you American folk) and said, “Have fun!”

“I’m scared!” I cried.

“You’ll be alright”, he said as he led me to the edge of the boat. “Sharks are more afraid of you than you are of them!”

I held onto my respirator and goggles, and with my torch in tow I jumped off the boat into the freezing cold water. As soon as we were in the water, our scuba diving team descended down to the bottom of the Reef. As I floated down, equalizing my air along the way, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. The sharks we were swimming with were Gray Reef Sharks, about as big as I am, and quite scary looking with their razor sharp, toothy smile. But in all honestly, I looked scarier to a shark clad in all black, surrounded by bubbles and sounding like Darth Vader. And there were five of us! I suddenly felt all of my fear slip away, and just enjoyed the ride.

We swam through the reef checking out little baby lionfish, moray eels and other marine life that like to come out to play at night. After a half hour we head back to our 5 meter check point. When you are recreational diving, Nitrogen builds up in your body and you need to stop for 3 minutes at 5 meters under the surface. This is called a Safety Stop that allows the Nitrogen to leave your body and keeps you from experiencing what divers call “The Benz”, or decompression sickness.

We did our Safety Stop, holding onto the anchor rope of the boat. All of a sudden, I saw a big gray reef shark swimming right towards me! I circled him with our torch to show the other divers, and in the torch light his eyes glowed a bright green. The shark swam straight past me, then disappeared into the darkness, making me wonder, “Where the heck is he now!?”

As I turned around, the shark shot right past us again. And then another. And another. We were surrounded by three sharks, dining on fish attracted to the boat lights overhead. I was terrified at first, holding onto the rope I felt like a little worm on a hook! Slowly, I felt myself relax as we watched those big beautiful monsters of the sea swim gracefully through the water, darting in and around us, curious as to what we were (and maybe what we tasted like!). I looked over at my dive buddy and signaled “Okay”, and we ascended up to the surface.

I have to admit, underwater I may have felt relaxed about being in the ocean surrounded by three sharks that were bigger than I am, but sitting on top of the surface, I felt like a new surge of fear. I could no longer see them, and therefore I no longer knew if they were coming up underneath me for a quick bite. I quickly got myself aboard the boat, laughing at the most ultimate rush of my life!

The next morning was my 27th birthday, and what better way to spend it than swimming with baby turtles! We fed them bits of seaweed from the coral to keep them around, and one even swam on top of Taylor’s head! We also found a school of giant parrot fish, each one the size of a small sheep! There were a few small neon colored sea slugs (my favorite!) and a little hermit crab. We even found Nemo! Well, a lot of Nemos! They were everywhere!

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After our last dive, the boat headed back towards Cairns. Our adventure was at an end, but it was an incredible experience, and one that has changed me for the rest of my life. I have always been afraid of sharks, but it just goes to show, that if you put your mind to it, you can conquer any and every fear.

There is nothing to Fear, but Fear itself.

Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef was one of my Top 30 Before I am 30, and I am so happy that I was able to take part in such an amazing experience. Finally getting a chance to swim with sea turtles, one of my favorite animals, was a lifelong dream of mine. As far as scuba diving with sharks at night, well, I will never be the same!

How to Make this Trip Happen:

-Flight from Sydney to Cairns on Tiger Airways round trip cost about 200 AUD.

- Pro Dive Cairns offers great 3-day live-aboard trips with a top notch crew and excellent food! You must be a certified diver to join, or you can complete your PADI course on the boat. Advanced Certification is also available. The cost is 630 AUD  + Levy Taxes.

-You can do a Beginning PADI course on the same trip, get fully certified as a Scuba Diver and do an additional Advanced course for about 900 AUD all on the boat!
Until the next Offbeat Adventure,
Sole Sis Lauren

Lauren grew up in rural Oregon, where she spent most of her time swimming in local rivers and waterfalls, hiking nearby forest trails and searching for hidden faerie homes in fallen tree trunks. For over three years, she has been traveling and drawing comic books about her adventures throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, the UK and Australia. Get your dose of humor and wanderlust when you check out her travel comic, The Wandering Orange.

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2 sole trails

  1. :) Great! Scuba diving is an alien thing to me, but I enjoyed your experience!

  2. Scuba diving is a fantastic recreational activity that has been a favorite among outdoor adventure seekers for years. However, always ensure your safety when engaging in this sport.


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