Great Barrier Reef: Dreams & Adventures

November 1, 2013 in Australia, Oceania, Travelogue

Great Barrier Reef

“Mama, why do they call it a live-aboard?”

Elisha asked while we were waiting.

“Well… because it’s a boat we’re going to stay overnight on… you know, we’ll live-aboard it for a couple of days.”

“Oh,” he nodded, “Well, what does that have to do with liver?”


“Yeah, why do they call it a liver board?” 

I laughed. Sure enough. If Australians were to say “liver board” it would sound like “livahboard” Live aboard.

“No… LIVE-ABOARD… not LIVER-BOARD!!” I giggled.

“Ooooh,” Elisha smiled, “Right.”

Suiting up a kid who isn’t accustomed to a wetsuit, booties, fins, weights and a dive rig is a fair approximation of the rodeo of stuffing small children (hopping up and down with excitement) into snowsuits.

Today I dove with Ezra, carefully watching him, keeping him no deeper than 12 meters and practicing as many of the basic skills as we could while he made his first post-certification dives. Tony dove with the teenagers, who can go a little deeper, and who are more confident in their abilities.

Maori Wrasse

We held hands as we swam, pointing out fish, counting sharks, keeping one eye peeled for nudibranchs, which Ez has a particular interest in. On our very first dive he got his big ticket fish item: the Maori wrasse: a really enormous and really friendly fish who is known to stick his lips in your face for a rub. “Over the moon,” doesn’t quite describe Ezra’s elation.

One would think that our primary mission during the daylight dives was to count and observe the Christmas tree worms. Ez jerked my arm wildly and dragged me towards moon coral after moon coral, dotted with little purple spirals, in pairs of feathery lavender tree shaped fronds. Just like the marine biologist at Reef Teach taught him, he passed his finger over the worms, without quiet touching them and watched them suck into their coral homes with lightning speed, giggling through his regulator.

He was nervous about the night dive.

Night Dive

Leaping into liquid darkness that you know to be full of the truly big fish, the hunters, prowling the reef for their evening meal is spooky.

We stood at the back of the boat for a long while and watched the big fish circle the column of light off of the back of the boat. A dozen sharks made wide, slow passes through the green glow.

The reef looks entirely different at night. Instead of extending for 30 meters in every direction, fading from rainbow colours to Pacific blue in the distance it shrinks to a series of eerie circles, the diameter of a flashlight’s glow. Ghostly figures pass through the circles and disappear into the liquid ink. Up becomes down, down becomes up, We’re suspended in space like individual stars. The other divers look like alien landers descending on a very foreign planet.

The big fish follow the light, using it to their hunting advantage. 

When we broke the surface Elisha, half remorseful, half excited, announced, “I killed a fish!” 

“You did WHAT?” I demanded, appalled. These kids know the “don’t touch, don’t damage” rule well.

“I shined my light on a little fish and one of the big ones swooped in and gobbled him up! Whoops.” He said, “Whoops,” but he was grinning.

The boys are in bed now, completely exhausted after their first full day of four dives. I hope they’re dreaming of fish and enormous sea cucumbers, white and black tipped sharks; green eyes glowing in the darkness, and big, blue green Maori wrasse kissing their hands.


As for me, I spent my day dreaming:

Watching my kids come face to face with the biggest living thing on the planet and be wowed by the tiniest parts of it. The smiles in their eyes behind the glass of their masks. The joy of giggles through a regulator. Watching the teenagers clown for their underwater photos, taking out their regulators to smile with all of their teeth and stick their tongues out 18 m. below the surface, just for fun!  The bittersweet knowledge that this is, likely, one of the last “big ticket items” that we’ll do as a family, with all four of our kids, before the big ones start walking their own paths. We’ve dreamt of this moment, this place, for years and to be here is… well, it’s beyond description.

Hannah burst into the dining room of the boat, braids dripping, fresh from the sea, while Ez and I were quietly enjoying our ice cream and planning our attack on tomorrow’s night dive, now that he knows there’s nothing to be afraid of.

“Mom! Guess what I found in my belly button?!” She laughed.

“What?” asked Ez, hoping for something really good.

“A FISHIE!” She held out her index finger and presented the tiniest minnow or an unidentifiable sort for our inspection.

“Don’t you think that’s just amazing?” she wondered aloud.

“Erm… no, it’s a minnow,” Ez pointed out in his signature dry, deadpan style.

“I think it’s amazing,” she affirmed, “That something so tiny might grow into something so enormous! Of course it won’t now: it got stuck in my belly button. Hey! Does that make me a fish mommy?”

She laughed hard, tossed her wet braid and left a drippy path as she headed off with her prize to find her other boys.