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October 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 32, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia

diving (what’s left of) the GBR

from the October, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver,

Lady Elliot Island from the airOn my first dive off Lady Elliot Island, we were briefed that a strong current was running so we should use the line for our descent. I had barely started down when a manta that was 10 feet (3m) across swam slowly by. As I watched it, our dive leader, Phil, rocketed off toward the deeper water. I didn't know what was up, but knew it must be good, so I took off after him. In outstanding visibility, a humpback whale materialized, moving slowly toward the surface as we approached. I got within 30 feet of it before it moved back into the deep. I checked my computer -- only three minutes into the first dive. Any misgivings I had had about returning to Lady Elliot Island had vanished.

And I had had plenty of misgivings. Most immediatez was Cyclone Debbie that had hit the Queensland coast in March. Debbie badly damaged Hamilton Island reefs. Lady Elliot is about 400 miles south of Hamilton (and just 50 miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn). It's the southernmost coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and surrounded by water 125 feet (38m) deep. On Lady Elliot, dive guide Phil Mitchell said the surge was from four to six meters.

I had arrived on Lady Elliot in July and went snorkeling at Lighthouse. I was shocked at the massive amount of broken coral. As I went deeper, the damage was less pronounced. At 25-30 feet (8-9m), there was little damage. At a site called Turtle Beds, which is only about 15 feet (3m) deep, there was little damage to the huge field of staghorn coral. Fish populations seemed healthy -- large schools of small fish, including fusiliers, damsels, and chromis. And the colors were beautiful.

The next day, my whale dive continued as it had begun -- mantas kept appearing at regular intervals -- a total of five. Along the way, I saw an 8-foot (2.5m) tawny nurse shark, a green turtle, and a large doubleheaded Maori wrasse. We were diving on the deeper, east side (most diving is done on the west side) at a site called Hiro's Cave. The corals were diverse, plentiful, and colorful -- both hard corals including cup, brain, plate, mushroom, finger, and wire, as well as soft corals like cauliflower, carnation, and gorgonian fans. And all of it completely undamaged and unbleached. So much for my misgivings about coral bleaching....

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