Nightmare Nr. 16376247

First recollection is stepping off the back of the dive boat, on the outer parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Hit the water and go to take the first breath, but the valve isn’t open. With no air in my vest, start to sink. Quickly. The water is crushing me. The boat is moored at the edge of the reef. The drop away is probably a 1000m. Start trying to get out of my vest, while kicking upwards, still falling…

and wake up struggling.

Oddly, i take this as a sign that the oceans are calling me, and it’s time to go diving… just don’t forget those safety checks!

Great Barrier Reef Diving

I blame Willard Price.

As a child his adventure books were a form of addiction. The ones that really did it for me were the diving ones, Underwater Adventure, South Sea Adventure, Diving Adventure. I can still recall the scene on the coral atoll with the giant squid caught in the fish trap…

All of which is a round-a-bout way of saying that i’ve always wanted to go dive the Great Barrier Reef. In my imagination it wouldn’t be as a tourist, but as a scientist, or explorer, attempting to unlock some great secret that would help save my watery paradise from the ravages of man…

So much for imagination! It doesn’t look like i’m going to manage to switch careers at this point, and does the world really need any more explorers?

Commercial flight from Tokyo to Cairns. Four day luxury live-aboard. All decisions made based on the fanciness of the websites. Willard would be oh so disappointed.

Fortunately the diving was good… although not as good as i’d managed to hype myself up to imagining it might be. The truth is that the reef really isn’t in that good condition. Even in areas where people rarely dive (we were lucky enough to get to a really remote reef that is only dived a couple of times a year) there is a lot of dead coral around. It’s true that it appears to be recovering – new growth dots the outcrops of dead coral, but the predominate atmosphere is not one of vibrant health.

Live-aboard life is really quite lulling. If you let them the staff will keeping you in a schedule of well organised eating / diving / sleeping. A typical day starts at 6:30am with breakfast, then diving, then second breakfast, then diving, then lunch, then diving, then dinner, then night diving, then sleep. The last step is not really optional… however much you might imagine that it’d be nice to sit around on deck with a beer, the reality is that having a shower before falling asleep is considered a victory. There were people on board who had kept up this schedule for 7 days, not missing a single dive. After four days i could see myself happily following along for another couple of weeks. It all catches up with afterwards, but at the time, it’s was as close to utopian existence as i’m likely to get!

The tourist aspect of it all only really encroached on one dive (out of the 15…) At North Horn on Osprey Reef the sharks now congregate to be fed by the dive boats. This involves winching a dustbin full of tuna heads on a rope down from the surface, and letting the sharks have at it. Contrived as it is, it’s a spectacular sight. Despite a group of 20 – 30 reef sharks, some as big as 3m, whipping themselves into a frenzy, around 5m in front of you, it’s all extremely peaceful. I took video of it, and was amazed that my breathing is pretty much unchanged. In the audio you can hear the bone sin the tuna heads cracking and snapping, but the lack of noise gives it a feeling serenity, belying the chaotic scene.

Fish feeding has never felt right to me… but i suppose it’s inevitable. If the demands of tourism can protect the shark population from continued decimation, it might be worth it. On the previous trip the staff on the boat had removed several hundred meters of baited hooks from the reef, and very little of the outer reef is officially protected from fishing. There are still big fish out there (giant barracuda, tune, manta rays, bull rays, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, trevelly, etc) but the abundance you might see on a TV documentary is far from commonplace at this point.

Part of the reason that i broke my ‘no flying’ ban and went on this trip was a feeling that if i didn’t do it soon, it would soon be too late. I’m obviously bittersweet about the whole thing. It was glorious to get to dive there, but knowing that i’m just adding to the pressure on the system really doesn’t feel right.

July Diving

There are worlds in these eyes...

Ah, what a beautiful day to go diving…

It seems rainy season is done for the year and now we can get on with roasting our plums. It was 32ºC down in Izu, but it felt gorgeous with a nice sea breeze.

The water is also hotting up – 21ºC at the surface, but the last couple of days of winds mixed things up a little down below, where there were patches of 15ºC. Truth be told, it was actually refreshing more than cold – a good layer of warm water in the wetsuit and you’re good to go!

It wouldn’t be a diving trip without a little madness, this month provided by a stray アカグツ (“red shoes”…) that had wandered up from the deep (~500m?) to see what was what. People were getting out of the water giving updates on the location of the thing, as we dashed into the water, and down to ~30m… it moved. We went one way, it went the other. Near miss, but a miss.

Seeing as one hasn’t been seen for a few years it was a big miss. Ah well, just another reason to keep diving.

うねり

More diving on the spin cycle…

It looks oh so peaceful here, but under the waves the swell / currents were something to reckoned with. It’s always hard to guess, but i’d say that it was moving me about 3m with each push / pull.

To get the shot of this nudibranch shot i was hanging onto a ~20kg boulder, which still wasn’t heavy enough to stop the waves trying to fold my legs over my head, and had another diver pushing down on my tank…

[That’s an アカエラミノウミウシ which i’ve never seen before at IOP, but this year is hanging on for dear life under every rock that you care to look under. It used to be that ムカデウミシ were two a penny, but yesterday i think i saw only one. Talking to some of the older divers, they can’t remember a time when so much has changed so quickly. The water temperature rose 3ºC over night (from 13ºC to 16ºC) on Wednesday!]

Amazing that it can be that deceptive – calm above the water and raging below it. I tried to get a shot of the white out conditions near the exit point, but by the time it got really bad i was too engaged in staying alive to take another shot… This shot is probably 10m from the beach, in at most 2m of water. Just after this the diver in front of me (really shouldn’t be on that side of the rope – there be dragons… or at least really big rocks) lost his weights, and unceremoniously surfaced with great haste. Being the kind soul that i am, i picked them up for him… mistake! An extra 8kg of lead doesn’t do much for you buoyancy… but it does make you get thrown around by the waves a little less. After a little rough and tumble, involving me being picked up and dumped on a large rock, hip first, i got back to the beach. Honestly, it’s much easier to dive on your own… until these kind of things happen to you… hmm. The buddy system. 

Rather disturbingly i’ll own up to loving this kind of stuff – boat diving is for old people! My body however, is not as keen as it used to be. It was a great relief to be able to walk this morning. By the time i went to bed my right hip was feeling like it might seize up and never move again. Don’t laugh (too much) if you see me hobbling around.

Only one dive again – have to avoid making a habit of this… My left ear, the one that i perforated last year (or was it the year before?) wasn’t clearing properly, and while it was manageable, not stopping from diving to 30m, it’s not something that i want to push now. One more tear and i might have to hang up my fins for good. Better to err of the side of caution… which must sound a little off after reading my last couple of diving posts!