By Leslee Matsushige, aquarium co-curator
My research trip to Australia has concluded and I’m back home at Birch Aquarium at Scripps, but I wanted to share some incredible photos from the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the world’s largest coral reef system, featuring more than 2,900 individual reefs across 1,600 miles. It can even be seen from space!
Over three days, I experienced 11 amazing dives aboard the Spirit of Freedom. The weather and water temperature in Cairns is more tropical and warmer compared to southern Australia, so I was able to switch out my 7mm wetsuit for a thinner 3mm one.
I went diving on the Ribbon Reefs and at Cod Hole, on the northern end of the Reef. These dive sites are located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a protected area that aims to limit the impact of human use from activities such as fishing and tourism. The Reef is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many of the dives sites were pristine with so much diversity of fish and invertebrates. During my first dive, I ran into a black tip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus), a species we display at Birch Aquarium. It was not uncommon to spot grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) or white tip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) on every dive.
I also saw sea snakes and green sea turtles and ran into schools of barracuda, big eye trevally, snappers, fusiliers, and fairy basslets. The coral growth was incredible; it was difficult to identify all of the species observed.
Of course it was also a delight to see and photograph various species of anemone fish hanging out in large anemones on the Reef.
One of the highlights of my trip was diving at Cod Hole, a dive site well known for the large potato cod (Epinephelus tukula), a fish that can reach more than 6 feet in length. They are very tame and attracted to divers. How cool to be diving alongside a potato cod almost as large as me!
These were the last dives of my trip-of-a-lifetime across Australia. I’ve learned so many things about seadragons and I can’t wait to apply this knowledge to our efforts to care for and breed these amazing animals.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me!