Bucket List: Scuba Diving at the Great Barrier Reef

Scuba diving was one of the most unique experiences we’ve had, and it was an incredibly beautiful way to encounter a part of the world that we’d never seen up close.

Ten years ago Jeff’s brother, Ross, studied abroad in Cairns, Australia and went scuba diving for the first time. It was then that he became interested in coral and decided to devote his career to researching coral in an effort to save this important animal, which is home to the vast majority of ocean life. Ever since, Ross has been encouraging his family to become certified to dive so they could not only enjoy diving with him but also take a closer look at what he is working hard to save. So when we decided to do an around the world trip, one of the first things Jeff put on the list was to go to Cairns to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef.

We booked a five day trip with Pro Dive Cairns, and we spent the first two days on land partaking in the classroom and pool portions of the certification process. Then we boarded a “liveaboard” boat for three days. The first day and a half on the boat was spent completing the training dives necessary to become fully certified open water divers, and then we spent the last day and a half diving on our own.
Jumping into the water with our full equipment – an oxygen tank, breathing regulator and buoyancy control device plus a wetsuit, snorkel mask and fins – gave us a rush of excitement. But it was the moment we went underwater for the first time that was surreal. The feeling of sinking deeper toward the ocean floor. The experience of being weightless as we floated above the sand. The rich, complex coral life comprising the Reef. The fish in an abundance of colors and patterns gliding through the current. It was fascinating and inspiring and hopeful.
During our dives we saw clown fish, moorish idol, and yellow boxfish. Sea cucumbers – large and small, dark and light, smooth and spiky – were dotted throughout the sandy bottom of the ocean. Blue spotted sting rays occasionally glided along the floor. Barracudas lingered beneath our boat. Trumpetfish hovered just below the surface of the water, their green scales shimmering as they twisted and turned. White tip Reef sharks quickly swam around, and we tried not to blink for fear they’d be gone in an instant. Sea turtles – up to 120 years old – played in the water, scavenging for seaweed.
Two of our favorite moments came after dark. One, when five or six sharks chased each other in the light on the side of our boat. And the other when we went on a night dive, lit only by small torches, and saw the famous, ancient sea turtle named Brian hidden and asleep in a cave.
Another highlight of this trip was the people we met and spent time with on the boat. There were thirty travelers and six staff members aboard. Our instructor, Shaune, was wonderful. He was knowledgeable, professional, and helpful but also laid back, fun, and had a great sense of humor – a perfect mixture for this sort of experience. The other divers in our certification class were all kind, interesting people, and it was a pleasure getting to know them.
One was an eighteen year old from England who had just finished high school and was on a gap year volunteering at a school in Melbourne. Another was a late-twenty-something woman from Holland. She had finished her degree in accounting but wasn’t quite ready to enter the working world, so she set off for a year in Australia. There was a twenty-five year old student from Victoria who was on school holiday. He left his job as a video game designer and had decided to return to school to become a surgeon. Finally, we met an Air Force pilot from Canada who is about our age. He and his wife recently had a baby and they are using their six months paid maternity leave (!!!) to travel around Australia in a campervan. (How cool is that?!)
Meeting and becoming friends with other travelers has enriched our experiences, given us a greater understanding of other cultures, and helped us have a lot of fun on our trip.
Scuba diving – observing the colors and textures of the coral reef, feeling the sun heat up the ocean floor and the moon pierce through the surface of the water, watching fish and turtles and clams move about – was positively unforgettable.

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