Last Night on Heron

Last night we went for a night snorkel. It was fun and kind of spooky to be swimming out to a shipwreck at night. As I was laying in bed, I could still feel the fins on my feet, the snorkel in my mouth and the gentle bob of the waves. It was then that I knew a part of me will never leave this island.

I have had a simply amazing experience. This is definitely my favorite field trip so far. To actually see the Great Barrier Reef is a dream come true. Honestly, every time I’ve gone for a snorkel there’s been a moment when I had to remind myself that I’m actually here. It’s not a dream, it’s not a TV show, I’m actually in the ocean with turtles, sharks, cleaning wrasses, parrot fish, giant starfish and coral as far as the eye can see. I have seen and learned so much. Twice this week I’ve woken up at dawn to the terns chattering, pulled on my wetsuit and slipped into the ocean. Let me tell you, there is almost no better way to start the day. I’ve spent every spare moment snorkeling. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. Sleep has so much less value to me. I can sleep in Brisbane. I can sleep in Geneva and Ilion. I can’t see these amazing organisms there. This has also been my most productive field trip. For whatever reason, the more things pile up the more drive I have to get them done. The vast amount of work ahead of me is daunting, but it makes ticking things off my to-do list that much more satisfying. I am not ready to leave Heron Island. I don’t want to go back to buses and classes and grades and papers and presentations. I don’t even really want to go on to our terrestrial field trip. I honestly think I could happily live out my days here. Maybe it’s good that we’re leaving tomorrow, before the magic has worn off and I’ve gotten sick of this. (Though right now I doubt that could happen). Despite my protests to the contrary, the ferry back to the mainland leaves late tomorrow morning and I have to be on it. Thank God for memories, for pictures and stories and dreams. I’m leaving Heron Island tomorrow morning, but a part of me will be here as long as I live.   


Heron Island

Tuesday night we trooped onto a bus to get to Heron Island. Heron is a little island on the Great Barrier Reef. And it is little. The only things on the island are the UQ Research Station where we’re staying and the resort where our American professors and their families are staying. The bus ride took all night (and we got very little sleep). We left Brisbane at 11:30 pm and arrived in Gladstone around 8 am after a brekkie at Macker’s. (McDonald’s breakfast). We then sat in a grassy field next to the ferry until it was time to leave at 11. (That was pretty nice actually. Some guys tossed around a rugby ball, I finished a book I was reading, we worked on our tans a bit.) Then it was time for the ferry. We had been told by Tom, our Australian Marine Bio professor, that this ferry made even experienced boaters sick. We laughed it off; Ozzies love to tell Americans all the ways that Australia is fit to kill (or injure, or cause discomfort). He was right though. A show of hands that night said 13 of the 32 of us lost their mcmuffins on the way over. I, thankfully, didn’t puke. It took every ounce of will I had, and I was white as a sheet, shaky and sweaty, but I kept down my breakfast. Once we arrived, we had an introduction, got into our rooms and then it was off to explore the reef flat. It was really cool to see the corals and other critters. We had burritos for dinner (I thought Mexican was an interesting choice after our “eventful” ride over) and I fell asleep around 9:00.

I woke up with the sun around 6, thought about going to back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got changed. I walked over to the jetty, where Tom said he’d be if there were any interested early risers. I was the only student who turned up, so I was the only student who saw Gus, the big (3 meter long) grouper that visits the harbor occasionally. There wasn’t too many other exciting things, but that was cool and I won some brownie points. After breakfast we suited up for our first snorkel. After signing out wetsuits, fins, masks and snorkels, we went down to the beach and waded in. I had some trouble at first. I would put my face down in the water and hold my breath. When I reminded myself that I could breathe through the snorkel, I would take a huge shuddering gasp (not the advised method).  This lead to a weird panic-attack feeling. I gave up on snorkeling for a minute and focused on swimming. Then I tried looking down while floating, and that was ok. I figured out that what really freaked me out was hearing my own breath rattle around in the snorkel. Once I identified that, it was easy to ignore, and snorkeling was a lot of fun. We saw tons of fish, most of them really pretty. We also saw a Linckia laevigata which was just gorgeous and huge and cool. Once I really felt like I was getting the hang of snorkeling, it was of course time to get out of the water. We had some free time, then at low tide went out onto the reef flat again. At this point, we worked with our assigned groups on our assigned project areas. I’m with another girl and two guys (Tom tried to get a guy and a girl from each college) and we work well together. Our project area is gastropods (aka snails), so not the most exciting project in the world. We decided to pick three habitats (reef flat, sand flat, rocky shore) and compare the richness of species we find in each. So the afternoon was spent counting all the gastropods we could find in various square meters on the reef flat and sand flat. Dinner was steak and potatoes, and then a lecture on the various types of fish we have seen and will see. After attempting to get some work done (a succeeding a little) I sat down to write this blog. Once this is posted, I’m off to bed early. Big day tomorrow, Team Gastropod is one of the teams going on a boat snorkel on the reef proper. Can’t wait!