The pilot announces our descent into Cairns pointing out that the weather has already warmed to a lovely 26 Celsius (74F). Tardy by thirty minutes I’m anxious to exchange my sweater and tennis shoes for my Havianas and a mumu. This flight came with an early wake-up call, but entirely welcomed considering the speed of which I made my exit from my Sydney hostel. The most lackluster hostel experience in all of my hostel experiences, I’m too thrilled to be in the North and in the tropical surroundings of Queensland. Once checked in, I spent the better part of the day balancing working, reorganizing and relaxing in the sun. All things considered, I decided to grab a quick bite and wonder the park side of the Esplanade to take in the swampy view before turning in early; travel days exhaust me.
Day one of my four-day adventure here in Cairns boasts a full day of activity and fun on the Great Barrier Reef! Truly a wonder to behold, this saltwater natural aquarium has sadly, slowly become a victim of climate change, which has elevated water temperatures significantly, killing the living organism bits at a time. That reality reinvigorating the foundation of my muse reminding me that if not now, when! My heart is fullest when on the water; the ocean calms me unlike any other element of the Earth. She’s with me on the waves in the hot sun and she whispers love songs in my ear on the salty sea breeze.
The boat speed increases against the headwind and I ride the rise and fall of the helm as if saddled atop a galloping horse. My earrings serenade me, making a percussion of beats on the wind as I glance from left to right, surrounded by sea. Below the surface at Saxon Reef my fears are confirmed; the majority of the coral is bleached or bleaching as the coral dies. The fish that inhabit what’s remaining is as curious of me as I am of them swimming close if I float vs swim or swat at them. The underwater world here is limited but alive. A Gruber pulls in mouth wide, side-eyeing me whilst a couple of cleaner fish dart between gills and nostrils sucking up unwanted algae and bacteria filling their bellies in the process. I dive and dance in the heavy current, a mistress of the Reef performing a ballet in the water as a school of bright blue damselfish swim by.
Our second stop, Hastings Reef is flourishing with coral and bright colored starfish, large clams, and Parrotfishes the length of my arm, beaks at the ready. I float and listen to the crunching sound of the coral as they feast. Amateur snorkelers repeatedly swim into me awkward with their jerky movements. One diver, too close in proximity, knocks my snorkel tube out of my mouth with their flailing arm as they pass. The twelfth apology receives an eye roll in response and I swim out away from the group to bask in my reverie in my underwater wonderland in peace.
My time on the Reef was short but fulfilling. Vivid recollections of my tiny hands palming the pages of my Encyclopedia reading as much about coral as my growing brain could sustain play out on the rocking boat ride back to the harbor. Inhaling the salty sea air as I disembark, I struggle to pinpoint the emotions running through me. My mind rewinds itself playing my short-term memory on a loop, a record of neon colors spin round and round like a vinyl record skipping on the needle. This experience is not one I’ll likely forget anytime soon.
My elation continues the following morning as my thoughts wander back to the sway of the boat and the busyness of the Reef. I people watch while waiting to board the Kuranda scenic railway; hyper-aware of the lack of dark skin and therefore the increase in stares aimed in my direction. Mostly retired patrons and foreign domestics from New South Wales on holiday swarm the waiting area. There are a handful of families pushing prams (strollers) with pairs of blue and inquisitive eyes staring out at me from beneath the sun tarp. They say this land still belongs to the aborigine natives, but I’ve yet to see one that isn’t street performing or pushing a janitorial cart. A polarizing topic-depending on who you speak to as “whites” say the indigenous get too much government assistance with little to no motivation to better themselves while the aborigines of the area express anger and resentment in spades to anyone not willing to concur with their feelings of oppression.
The bus driver up to Mossman Gorge claims aboriginal heritage and explains that he chose to work in the National Park as a means of staying close to the land. Sadly, this conversation didn’t give way to gnawing questions in the back of my mind, but considering the size and average skin shade of the tour group, I thought it best to keep them to myself. I’m adamant to hear both sides of this ongoing story of segregation so I research The Act of 1897 appointing a “Chief Protector” to oversee all things Aboriginal and am intrigued further when I discover that it has been amended four times throughout history, the most recent in 1934. History doing what it does best; repeating the best and worst of itself, depending on one’s perception.
My thoughts go back to the Reef and how much of a well-oiled machine that ecosystem is. I can’t help but to see the metaphorical connection to the importance of working together. Every element and inhabitant of the coral reef has a purpose, playing its role in symbiotic rituals benefiting all who reside there, including the coral itself. As easy as it is to doubt humanity in the face of tragic historical realities, still in many ways crippling an entire race trying desperately to fight its way back to relevance in a modern world, I challenge myself to remain hopeful. Hopeful for more aboriginal cross-cultural interactions on my journey in order to share with loved ones around the world. Hopeful that humankind can adapt and learn from mistakes passed and work together to implement positive solutions for the benefit of the generations to come. A repeat of the symbiotic relationship amongst humankind to mimic the beauty and wonder of a coral reef-with a profound understanding of the importance of sustaining this earth.https://www.bagladymeredithsandiego.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/img_3564.mov
**To learn more about the efforts being made to sustain and maintain the Great Barrier Reef click here http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/protecting-the-reef
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