06.01.2014 - 09.01.2014
Leaving Airlie beach to head south we needed to catch a Greyhound bus at 11:55pm which wasn't ideal as it meant we would have to hang around Airlie for the whole day. Without a place to go to because we were not checking in anywhere we used the outdoor areas to pass the time, which to be fair weren't bad at all.
Most of the morning after returning from Oz sail at about 10am we spent in the shade looking over the bay, whilst reading books and taking the odd nap. The time did fly by and if we needed anything we just would pop over to the shops or bars the other-side of the road. The area offers lockers for your bags and so we didn't need to lug round our big bags which in the heat was a god send. The afternoon started to drag on a bit so we decided to grab dinner at our favourite restaurant Capers, realising then that we weren't your average backpacker because they would go down the street to the 'scummy' bars to grab a meal and a drink for 13 dollars rather than spend more at a restaurant like Capers. That being said we did get a good 2 for 1 pizza deal and spent most of our evening there before swinging by our previous hostel to have a shower. By then it was time to walk to the transit terminal which is newly built 10 mins outside of Airlie centre. On route we stopped at a bar which had hundreds of international beers to chose from and a rather opinionated waiter from Essex, he was good value though.
The bus ride to Bundaberg was uneventful to be honest and the only bonus was that the new buses have Wi-Fi but apart from that it was a bit of a slog of about 11 hours. The reason we went to Bundaberg was that we would be getting a flight from there over to Lady Elliot Island. Wanting to do some diving on the Great Barrier Reef we put a word out to friends and was recommended to go here rather than head to the highly marketed area of Cairns 'the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef'.
The flight would be the next day and so we decided to get a nicer room to ourselves to chill out and spend time blogging and therefore we didn't to venture around the town which to be honest I wasn't bothered about, as nothing seemed to be open anyway! Upon arriving at the local Hinkler Airport the next day it was a bit dead with I guess limited amount of flights going in and out. Having found a staff member who knew the routine for Lady Elliot passengers we signed in our larger bags for storage and later were walked out by our pilot to the small airplane. It was a first for us to have this kind of personal experience and what's more was that the flight would give us a chance to grab aerial shots of island.
Check out this...
You could even spot mantas swimming along the reef from the sky the water is that clear!
When we landed we were met by a young guy who was interning and gave us the orientation around the resort site. It wasn't a lavish site due to it being a Eco tourism development but we warmed to it straight away. The first thing you notice when walking around is the abundance of birdlife, this particular period was nesting season and there were hundreds of sea birds come to the island, and there were a number of young birds hanging around waiting to be fed by their parents. The other season that the island was going through was the Turtle nesting season, and so the promise of seeing either a mother turtle come ashore or hatchlings making their way to the ocean obviously got us excited.
What is great about the island is that they set up activities throughout the day for you to join in...
... one of which being reef walks at low tide so we decided we would do this first and set up diving for the next day. There was time in between to take a look at our room which is described as an Eco tent. I was pleasantly surprised because it was a wooden frame that is covered by a tent exterior complete with double bed and a cracking view.
Before the reef walk we headed to the beach to join in the fish feeding demonstration and I got a chance to hold the weird looking sea cucumber! This animal plays a crucial role in the reef as it acts as the vaccum cleaner sucking up the reef floor and recycling nutrients.
Teaming up with Fabrice, one of the guides at Lady Elliot, we were taken out to the lagoon reef at low tide to take a look at some of the interesting species. Apart from the abundant corals we found two types of starfish which if cut in the middle can actually reform into two new star shapes, clever!
Sarah got a chance to hold this massive sea cucumber, she even managed to spot a sea worm which normally comes out at night but as we spotted it the crowds beckoned over it and scared it away and so we couldn't get a photo. It was a good experience and Fabrice was very knowledgable about the marine life which made it more interesting. After the reef walk we had a little waiting to do before going to the island induction that would be presented by the manager of the island.
We were advised about when possibly you could witness either turtles coming on shore or hatchlings heading out to the ocean and so we decided to do a night walk along the beach to see if we would get lucky. This time we didn't manage to find any but we did get to see some of the other marine life that is active at night.
Our next day was full with diving, and with an early start we headed out to the western side of the island between the coral gardens and lighthouse bommie divesites. Almost immediately we were met with Manta rays and later we would see a Toadfish, Turtles, Sting Rays, Leopard Shark, Napoleon Wrasse, Big Barracuda as well as your typical reef marine life such as Lionfish, Clownfish, Moray Eel, Angelfish etc.
Here are some of our best bits in video form...Enjoy!
After diving we were pretty spent and the rest of the afternoon was a leisurely one as later in the evening there was going to be a presentation led by Dr Fabrice Jaine (our reef walk guide) who specialised his PhD examining the distribution, movements, habitat use and sighting trends of reef manta rays along the east cost of Australia. The talk he gave was fascinating and a real insight into what a Marine Biologist might get up too.
He first gave us a intro into the physiology of the Manta Ray and explained that each ray has its on identification marks much like our fingerprints that are situated on their belly. If you are a keen diver and have managed to take photos of these marks please send them to this website so they can continue to grow their data collected.
A disturbing fact that we weren't aware of was that Rays are hunted specifically for their gills as it is used as a component in traditional Chinese medicine. There is no proof that having the gills offer anything in terms of medicinal value. Like most of the Chinese medicine trade it is damaging the ecosystem for no apparent reason and what is more disturbing is that it is not based on supply and demand but a hoarding of ingredients. I hope that the Mega Mauna Foundation succeed in stopping this blatant abuse of marine life.
MMF was set up to focus on the research and conservation of threatened marine megafauna species. ‘Marine Megafauna’ are large marine species such as sharks, rays, marine mammals and turtles". Fabrice explained that not since 2008 had there been research into Rays at such a level that new learnings could be found. Before Fabrice, a American women called Andrea Marshall was the first person in the world to complete a PhD on Manta Rays. It was her team that were based in Mozambique that developed the Marine Mega Fauna Foundation.
One of most interesting facts amongst a lot of information was the geographical location of Lady Elliot island. Sitting on the edge of the continental shelf it has a prime position when looking at currents, weather patterns, water temperature and source of food which all play a huge part in the behavioural analysis of the a Manta Ray. Fabrice set out to deploy tags, each costing $5000 dollars on 10 different Manta Rays in order to collect the data to further understand the reasons why they have a particular love for this area around the East Coast.
We found out from Fabrice that MMF have set up 'Ray of Hope' expeditions which offer normal folk the chance to get involved in the conservation and research by committing to help collect data of the different species of Rays around the world, whilst enjoying a unique diving experience. Sarah and I made a little note of that for a future trip.
That evening we decided to go out later in the evening on the beach to see if we could track down a nesting turtle. Not long into it we came upon a distinct shadow making its way down the beach to the ocean.
Thinking we had missed the show we were equally excited when another Turtle turned up on shore. We waited and waited as it slowly headed up the beach to find its nesting ground. We waited again trying not to make a sound or shine a light to disturb her as any sign of danger they would turn around and head back to sea.
The one we focused on took a while to get settled and waited listening to her digging her egg chamber flinging coral in all directions. We were with her for over an hour when she decided she wasn't happy with her chosen spot and moved to find another area which is not uncommon. During this time we had spied another turtle had come to the beach and was behind us making digging noises. We decided to get closer to see how the other turtle was doing and hit the jackpot as she was already laying her eggs and because they go into a trance like state at this point we were able to get up close and take a few photos without disturbing her.
The nesting cycle is quite incredible really as where she has laid her eggs will be almost exactly where she was born. They have this innate ability to find their way back to the birthplace in order to lay their own eggs. Apparently when the hatchlings make their first journey down to the shore they use a magnetic organ in their head to pinpoint their location so they know where to come back to!
With that witnessed we were ready to hit the hay, but what a great day it had been!
The next morning we lead one of the team to the nesting site so it could be marked, ours was number 36 of nests recorded during the season.
We had set up our glass bottom boat snorkelling trip which came complimentary from the island resort. We met up with Fabrice again who was today going to be our snorkel guide and made our way over to the western side.
The snorkelling was really good as the visibility was fantastic. We saw a white tip reef shark as well as turtles and plenty of small reef fish. It was one of the better snorkelling experiences I've had as normally I'm not much of a fan of it.
Inspired by the mornings experience we headed straight for the lagoon on the other side of the island to see what we could find there. This is only open at certain times of the day when the tide is high enough to be able to snorkel over the corals. We had a fantastic experience with one turtle who was just hanging out drifting over the coral who didn't mind us joining him for a bit. With the sunlight and being in shallow water we could really make out the amazing colours of its shell and at moments it would look at you right in the eye. Amazing. Such a shame we didn't have a camera with us that day.
The rest of the day we chilled by the beach getting some much desired sun and after dinner we participated in a game of island bingo using a Lady Elliot theme instead of numbers.
The whole experience of LEI was incredible and we were so pleased that we made the decision to come here. We had ticked off one of our to do's having dived The Great Barrier Reef had been able to see Turtle nesting which we had missed back in Borneo. This will definitely be somewhere to remember for the future.
Stay tuned for more tales.