Adventure at the Great Barrier Reef

Posted: 08/29/2011 in all marine news

Mike Dunne –

The swells of the Coral Sea rose and fell gently, nudging me toward a nap. Then a stir and a splash just off the port side of the boat caught my eye. Before my mind could register what I’d seen, the skipper shouted, “There’s a shark!”

“Oh, great,” replied my wife, Martha. Not 30 seconds before, our granddaughter Brittney, two other scuba students and their instructor had slipped over the side, disappearing underneath, leaving a trail of faint and lazy bubbles.

I’m not going to nap now.

 The skipper added, “Oh, it’s only a reef shark.” His voice was as calm and flat as the water. He might as well have said “tadpole.” I accepted his knowledge and assurance, though the ensuing 30 minutes seemed like the longest half-hour of my life.

The reef in question is the Great Barrier Reef. We’re bobbing just off Green Island due east of the northern reaches of the Australian state of Queensland. We’re on the third day of a trip inspired by Brittney.

When she’d graduated from Woodcreek High School in Roseville a year earlier, we told her we’d take her wherever she wanted to go. Her twin passions are environmental science and fashion design. She pondered the fashion sense of Florence, the environmental drama of the Amazon rain forest.

When she settled on the Great Barrier Reef, I drew up an itinerary I’d hoped would deepen and refine her interest in environmental matters.

She and the others soon bobbed up beside the boat. She climbed aboard, and through chattering teeth told us of the exotic fish, colorful coral and a giant clam she’d just seen. She’s oblivious of any shark in the vicinity.

Our initial base was Cairns, an old sugar cane settlement transformed into a lively jumping-off point to the Great Barrier Reef. When we landed, I asked a Qantas attendant for the correct pronunciation of Cairns. She sized me up astutely, saying, ” ‘Cans,’ like cans of beer.”

And beer does flow generously in and about Cairns, thanks in part to the area’s many Irish pubs. I was perplexed, however, why so many young Aussies shunned their fine homegrown brews in favor of insipid Corona, especially at $9.50 a bottle. A local bloke set me straight: “Marketing, mate,” he said.

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