Skin diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland, Australia

My wife (Engogirl) and I went both scuba diving and snorkelling on the Great Barrier reef last month.

I learnt how to scuba dive years ago and to tell the truth, I never really thought it was any better than snorkelling. Scuba is interesting in that it’s a bit like flying. You aren’t restricted by gravity to the ground. When you want to go down, you merely swim down and when you want to go up, all you have to do is swim up. all very effortless and it’s a bit like being like a bird except the medium which you pass through is much denser and you can’t breathe it.

Engogirl wanted to try scuba diving so when we went out to the reef, we both did an introductory course (I hadn’t done any scuba diving since the mid 1980s). 

Engogirl and the razzbuffnik go scuba diving

My wife was very underwhelmed by the experience as not only did she think that there wasn’t as much to look at the bottom (the reef is mainly in about 10 metre, which is about 31 ft, deep water), she also felt that the noise of the breathing apparatus and the bubbles it made, detracted from the experience. In short she felt it wasn’t worth the hassle of dealing with all the equipment and she’d rather just jump in the water to snorkel.

Engogirl and pineapple sea cucumber

Before we left on our trip we bought a very cheap and consequently low quality underwater camera (a Vivitar 6200W). It’s fixed focus and it can make little low-res movie files. We were a bit disappointed with the lack of sharpness and poor colour rendering. The digital screen was next to useless and basically we pointed the thing and just hoped for the best. The only good thing about the camera was that it was waterproof to 10 meters (which we took it down to).

The nice thing about snorkelling is that it’s very simple and far less dangerous. No hassles with having to be careful with surfacing to avoid the bends and no time limits. Another plus is the gear is way cheaper and far more simpler.

clown fish

Scuba gear isn’t that necessary on the reef because most of it is in shallow water and the colours look better closer to the surface. 

There were some very keen scuba divers on the boat we went on and I scared one while I was snorkelling by diving down to her depth (about 8 meters or about 26 feet) and swimming under her. She sure didn’t expect to see someone without scuba gear at that depth.

surgeon fish

The only advantage of scuba, that I could see, in the area we dived in was that one could take their time taking photos. Trouble was that the further down you go, the duller the colours become. If you use a flash to bring back the colour, you’ll illuminate the particles in the water and you’ll get lots of lightly coloured, out of focus dots in your shot. Unfortunately for us the coral had spawned a few days before we arrived and there were lots of small particles in the water. The crew on the boat seemed to enjoy telling us that we’d be swimming in coral spooge.

There’s no doubt it, the Great Barrier Reef has plenty of fish to see and it’s quite easy to get fairly close to them.

surgeon fish

 We saw some quite large fish such as a 1.5 metre (about 4′ 6″) shark and a very large Maori wrasse (almost 2 metres or about 6’6″). Both fish were big enough to make me think twice about getting closer and I didn’t get any pictures of them.

By the second day Engogirl had found the perfect snorkelling combination; a stinger suit and a noodle.

Engogirl and the latest in snorkelling fashion

Stinger suits are designed to protect the wearer from stings of the irukandji jellyfish and sunburn. The noodles are a long closed cell foam cylinder that provide floatation. I stuck with my lightweight wetsuit.

Engogirl spent most of her time taking little movies with our camera while floating on the surface. I’ve cobbled a little movie together of Engogirl’s first efforts at filming. If you’d like to see the movie, click here.