Next stop – Lady Elliot Island, Australia
It has been a month since we returned from my first trip to the most southern point of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a trip of many firsts, my first time staying on an island, snorkeling, seeing turtles and hatchlings, and many other encounters with fish I don’t know to identify. Unlike other trips, there were no culinary experiences, no memento hunting, no architectural landmarks just amazing natural wonders. So here we go:
I assume the title of amateur bird watcher, considering I have conversations with the Kookaburra who decides to come to our backyard every day; so I was very happy to see that we arrived during nesting season for the White Capped Noddy, when babies and busy parents were creating a wonderful soundtrack to the island. We witnessed a full cycle accompanied by some mixed emotions when nature exposed us to other aspects of these birds’ lives. Cyclone Oswald managed after three days of intense rain and winds to dismantle many nests and lots of babies were on the ground in search of comfort, parents and probably food. No human intervention has proved effective so far, so all you can do is accept it as is and hope not many would pass away. Other birds were hovering around busying themselves, some were grumpy, some were bullies, some would get trapped in branches and couldn’t escape, so overall a very busy busy place.
The island takes great pride in the health of its coral. There were talks and presentations to teach us the importance of the reef, the delicate balance of it all and how to enjoy it without disruption. The snorkeling sessions put in me a complex state of awe, alertness and stress. Awe and alertness are more obvious since it was an amazing world unfolding in front of me for the first time but I was so afraid I would ruin something or damage the coral by stepping in the wrong place. The first day we arrived I busied myself filling up a hat with dry coral, washed away on the beach. I thought they would make perfect souvenirs to take home with their gorgeous colors: red, pink or purple. As a formality, I asked if I was allowed to take some and my enthusiasm was cut short with the threat of a 5000$ fine for any piece taken away from the island. I sulked a bit, what else could I do with a hat full of beautiful coral, and proceeded to photograph them.
The reef is home to many incredible species: gorgeous colors, small, big, scary, friendly and I was happy, curious and afraid. Imagine me quickly swimming away because a fish the size of my middle finger is chasing me for invading its space. I am pleased to report Dory is doing well, could not spot Nemo but I am sure he is happy roaming somewhere around there and not in an aquarium. And to show we are not so different, here is a photo of a Yellow Trumpet Fish completely lazy and piggy backing on another hard working fellow.
They have three types of turtles visiting around the area: Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead. I have seen turtles on TV but nothing prepared me for how thrilled I would be to see them for the first time in the sea. We were snorkeling in the Coral Gardens area of the island, when I spotted her. She went up to catch a breath of air and then off she went, with no desire to interact. I was over the moon with excitement.
Even though cyclone Oswald made it challenging to swim and snorkel, it brought many nutrients around the area and we were able to see much more because of it. During those rainy days, the lagoon was visited by lots of Green Turtles and eager people like us to see them. We were not able to leave the island on the booked day because of the storm and on my last snorkel we kept fighting the current to enjoy all the activity in the sea. After three times getting in the water and drifting with the current I was getting lazy and ready to call it a day. How lucky that Chris suggested we should go one more time since it was during this last round we found a friendly Green Turtle who was happy to let me clean her shell. I don’t know what words I can come up with to describe how frantically I was fighting the current to not take me away from her. A couple of times she saw me drifting away and she would let herself go to catch up with us. I think I managed to clean her entire shell and even a month later, I feel such emotion thinking of that moment, for some reason it left a very strong impression with me.
If we had have left then, I would have thought it was an incredible trip. But there is more. On the day we were due to leave, while having breakfast, breaking news came from the beach that Loggerhead hatchlings are setting off from their nest. Oh you should have seen how quickly everyone got up, it was like Oprah just announced to look under our seats. And hatchlings we saw. Little loggerhead babies setting off for their first journey. When ready, they would spring from the nest and as quickly as possible would rush to catch their first wave. It blows my mind that they need to make this trip on their own in order to leave a magnetic trail which they will use as a radar to come back to this beach approximately 30 years from their first steps. I think we saw about 40 over a few hours. There was one little fellow in the nest stuck towards a sand wall and could not find his way. The sun was already burning and before we caught our flight home, Chris went to check up on him and we were the only two lucky ones to see this little hatchling finally finding his way into what I hope will be a long and happy journey.
This trip has filled my heart with joy and emotion and until we meet again I wish my beautiful turtle and all the hatchlings easy and peaceful wanders. Just look how happy I look in this photo 🙂
I tried to keep a few notes of the amazing things present around Lady Elliot Island.
Coral: Branching Coral, Cauliflower Coral
Birds: White-capped Noddy, Bridled Tern, Buff-banded Rail, Pied Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Lesser Frigate Bird
Trees: Pandanus, Pisonia, Casuarina, Octopus Bush
Turtles: Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead
Fish: Damselfish (Humbug), Butterflyfish (Threadfin), Angelfish (Emperor), Cardinal fish, Cods and Groupers, Surgeonfish, Wrasses (Moon), Parrotfish (Steep headed), Gobies, Blennies, Fusiliers, Leatherjacket, Triggerfish (Picasso), Rabbit fish, Snapper ,Trumpet fish (Yellow), Soldier fish, Squirrel fish, Batfish, Porcupine fish
Honorable mentions: Epaulette Shark, Sea Cucumbers, Sea Stars and Clams