12.07.2014

Welcome to Heron Island - Great Barrier Reef

Exiting the boat at the Heron Island Harbor, you see a giant Grouper and several sharks in the water around the parked boats. As we made our way up the path to the Welcome area for our orientation to the island (required as an environmental precaution against dumb people), we were dive bombed by a Black Knotty Turn either protecting its young or trained to thrill new visitors. Green turtles are starting to nest on Heron Island. That means we are too early to see baby turtles, but we will probably see mothers crossing the beach to lay eggs.

It is now later the same day. It has been wildly fantastic, exceeding all expectations. I should have set my expectations higher.

Actually, my expectations were met in terms of the charlatanry of the commercial operation here. Overpriced everything and smallish portions of food.

But as far as the nature is concerned, it's awesome.

We had lunch after we got off the boat, then hit the Marine Center to get the snorkel gear included with our package deal. The girl working the desk had that "sharp" Queensland snotty attitude thar Carl told us was common among this demographic of Australians. I find it odd that people can ever be grumpy here when they basically live and work in a tropical paradise. But I guess people are never happy with what they have...the universal human dilemma. Maybe this girl was just tired after a long shift. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, as long as we did not ask her too many pesky questions, which seemed to up her annoyance levels, she did her job and we got the gear.

We went into the water right behind our bungalow style rooms. The tide had been fully out when we arrived and was now starting to come in. As it did, more and more fish returned to the rocks and reefs out in the water. We saw a couple black tip reef sharks, a manta ray, and a sea turtle swim by.

Sharks fill me with instinctual mortal terror, but it is not so bad when there are other people around. Rationally and logically, I know they are harmless. For one thing, logic dictates that lots of people snorkel freely on the reef and there are tons of sharks around and few, if any, incidents. If there were danger, I am sure warnings would be required at orientation. This was not so. Secondly, I asked the cute chick naturalist after orientation if the sharks were any danger and she said not at all.

"They have become so accustomed to people that they just ignore us," she said. Reassuring enough for me. She also said mornings were the best time to snorkel. "Oh I love mornings," she said. "They can't be beat."

As luck would have it, high tide tomorrow morning is about 7:45.

After the late afternoon snorkel-o-rama, we went to the island (monopolistic) restaurant for (overpriced) dinner, at which we decided that snorkeling will go down in the morning. We are getting up at 7 AM to go and probably won't even eat breakfast until afterwards, although I would like to eat first. Best snorkeling times are between two hours before and after high tide. Breakfast ends at 10. So I will probably get breakfast first then join the gang.

After dinner, on a whim, I walked down to the dock and saw some manta rays swim by in a group of three or four. I went back to tell my sister's family about this and my niece and nephew got excited and wanted to go have a look, so we all walked back down. As we were walking off the dock to return to our rooms, we had to stop for the epic sight to end all sights.

Three great big sea turtles were hauling themselves awkwardly up the inclined plane of the boat launch, one after the other - females on their way to lay eggs. These beasts are graceful in the water, I knew, having just seen one swimming a short while before, but they are ridiculously clumsy hauling their enormous bulks up the beach under the power of appendages meant for "flying" in water. When these turtles reached the tree line, they stopped, then started using these same appendages to dig a hole, where the hundreds of fertilized eggs each turtle held within her gravid womb would be deposited. When the upstart baby turtles hatch and emerge from the sand, only a few will make it to adulthood, numbering in the single digits. It seems like such a chore for these turtles to reproduce. The slowness of the egg laying process and the inefficiency of surviving birth boggles the mind. But it was incredible to see nature in action, repeating a process that has been grinding on for millions of years. Sea turtles are awesome.

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