5 years ago | The Great Barrier Reef, off Queensland, AU | 4th January 2018
Five years ago, we snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef. Let’s just let that just sink in for a moment…
Even as I typed those words, part of me can’t quite believe I’m able to. It’s a preposterous thing to be able to say. I grew up in a pretty normal 80s household, watching ‘Russ Abbot’s Madhouse’ and having sliced bananas in milk for ‘afters’ at teatime. Ten year-old me would think it an impossible thing for grown-up me to have even contemplated doing.
The Barrier Reef was the sort of thing we’d see on a David Attenborough programme. Of course we knew this was somewhere on the same planet because, well, it couldn’t not be. But it wasn’t realistically in our orbit. It existed solely “on telly”, in the same way that JR Ewing or Hilda Ogden did – and it might as well have been equally as fictional.
And so, when the opportunity came to see it ‘in real life’, it had to be taken. We were on the third leg of our Australian tour. We’d spent Christmas in Melbourne and New Year in Sydney, with a still-hungover flight up to Cairns on New Year’s Day morning. An hour’s drive north is place called Port Douglas and it was recommended to me by an old business contact from Geelong as the best place to do the ‘Reef.
He wasn’t wrong. It’s a small town by a big beach, surrounded by resort hotels and a tropical rain forest, but with a charming main drag of pubs and restaurants. There’s a look-out point from which to admire the view and a harbour from which to book your Reef adventure.
The parts we’d snorkel in were about twenty miles out to sea and as we skipped over the waves in our 40-foot craft, we were treated to just about the best – and certainly the most Australian – ‘safety announcement’ I think I’ve ever heard:
“If the boat gets into difficulties, we’ll ask you all to put on your lifejackets as we drift aimlessly around. I’ll send our location on the radio and set off a flare – and then we’ll get the tinnies in while we wait for the Channel Nine news-copter to come and find us”
Anyway, before long we got to our intended location, slipped on the jellyfish-proof ’stinger’ wetsuits and jumped in the ocean. Reader, I won’t lie, it was every bit the awesome, pinch-me, unbelievable experience that I’d expected it to be.
The bit that was different to billing was the noticeable lack of vibrant colour that, thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Attenborough, I’d been led to expect. There was some colour and plenty of exotic species but it wasn’t the rainbow-infused dazzle of colour I’d seen on TV at home. The fact it was more drab, more monochrome, more – dare I say it? – bleached meant the experience was just as profound as I’d wanted, just not in the way I’d thought it would be.
You see, there’s something else that we know exists because how can it not? Something that we tend to see evidence of primarily “on telly”, where fact and fiction are less clearly delineated and, much of the time, the endings are already written. Climate change is that real-life storyline and it occurred to me that this was the first physical evidence I’d seen of it with my own eyes.
I know none of this should matter. We can all believe the science, we can all know the issues and we can all understand the choices that climate change forces us to face. It’s simply a question of logic. The problem is that human beings are, to a large extent, not logical. That profound sense of witnessing something I’d only previously experienced second-hand has stayed with me ever since.
What I saw was the future we’ve been warned about “on telly” – in real life. Maybe if everyone had the opportunity to do what I’ve done, the issue would be more in our orbit and we’d be closer to solving this most real-life of problems.