This past weekend SFS Australia was lucky enough to go to Fitzroy Island outside of Cairns. Though the day had hiccups due to pouring rain and the possibility of thunderstorms, every one of us will remember the experience for a long time.
After leaving the Center at an early 6:30, we traveled down the winding Gillies Highway out of the rainforest and towards Cairns as the sun rose. By the time we arrived at the Cairns docks for our boat “Raging Thunder” to take us to Fitzroy, the rain had set in. Not ones to let a little rain ruin our day (we do live in the rainforest), a large group of us sat on the top deck and let ourselves get drenched. Of course, we took the opportunity to dance like crazy as we watched the surrounding islands pass by.
Once we got to Fitzroy and the rain had settled into a drizzle, we went straight to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre for our tour. We learned about the history of the organization and how they aid in the recovery for injured or sick turtles with the goal of reintroducing them to their natural habitat. While there, we met Ella, a green sea turtle. She had been hit by a boat and suffered shell and head damage and had almost made a full recovery. Ella liked to show off by swimming in circles around her pool and enjoyed scratches on her shell from the volunteer.
For the rest of the morning, we had field lectures about the geological and ecological history of the island and discussed the coastal and reef management issues. There are many threats to the reef and the surrounding area that are difficult to effectively manage. An overarching theme of our time in Australia has been the way in which what happens in the Atherton Tablelands effects coastal areas and the Great Barrier Reef. Seeing these impacts first hand, such as the bleaching of the coral, gave our studies and efforts more gravity.
The group then split into two to snorkel or explore the island with our professors. Assigned the latter, I hiked to sites such as the Secret Garden and Nudey Beach in the ongoing rain. The Secret Garden was a tropical rainforest similar to the one at the Center, and it gave me another wave of appreciation for how amazing it is to be living in the rainforest. Nudey Beach showed off Fitzroy as the tropical paradise it is, secluded and picturesque. The beautiful white coral beach was nearly deserted, and we were free to explore the area and search for the coolest pieces of coral.
Just as it was time for my group to begin snorkeling, the sky cleared and the sun shone brightly, a great omen for how wonderful this experience was going to be. We all put on our very attractive stinger suits to protect against jellyfish and eagerly jumped in to explore the reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is truly a natural wonder. It is hard to describe how amazing it was to peer into this underwater world full of vibrant colors and such abundant biodiversity. Everything is alive and constantly changing. The water was so clear, and the coral was so unique and beautiful. The entire experience was surreal. There were plenty of fish that I had never seen before of all colors, shapes, and sizes. I was especially excited to see the iridescent parrotfish and a group of five clownfish weaving in and out of the reef. To my extreme jealousy, others had seen green sea turtles while snorkeling.
Exhausted from a wonderful day exploring Fitzroy Island and the Great Barrier Reef, we traveled on the boat back to Cairns, looking back at the tropical paradise.