Friday, 22 March 2013

Back from rainy Great Barrier Reef - some wildlife and macro/micro shots

    The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for amazing underwater sights... but the weather might seriously let you down. I spent most of the two-week long field trip indoors cursing the weather, yet managed to get a few shots.

The field trip took place at Heron island, which is a large coral cay. University of Queensland has a research station there.

   I finally could see a place that is not affected by tourists as destructively as it was in Thailand. The prices are ridiculously high if you simply travel. A quick search for the resort will give you an idea... Yet I have to admire the fact that these prices keep high numbers of tourists away, and some of the earned money gets to the environmental matters, including a purification system. Raw sewage doesn't flow into the ocean like in most places of South-East Asia. The other island with a famous research station is Lizard island. So far I don't have any opportunities of visiting it, especially on my own budget.

 Perhaps 20 years from now such high prices would be a normal investment for visiting a reef and seeing marine life.

The island happens to be a nesting place for multiple species of birds.

Yeah... I know, I suck at taking pictures of vertebrates

  The most notorious one is the mutton bird. Their chicks are fluffy, funny, clumsy, and have all qualities that make them adorable. They hide in burrows in the forest. Upon extraction the best way to calm them down is to cuddle them behind the ear... or the place where mammals would have "normal" ears. They react as pet cats--they melt in enjoyment, forgetting about any danger. That's how their parents communicate with them. Looking at such cute creatures I wondered who possibly came up with the idea of muttonbirding.

 Oh, yes, their parents. Possibly that's what inclined people to eat the chicks. The most distracting, sleep-ruining, and annoying thing on the whole island, aside from bad weather (sorry for an insult, bird researchers!). Unlike other nesting birds, short-tailed shearwaters don't sit in trees and shit on your head all the time. They come to feed their young only at night time and claim the soundscape of the whole place. You can't escape their captivating "singing", unless you are on the reef, away from land.

  To give you an idea, just listen to this recording, not the best quality as I made it with my camera, but enough to immerse you into the night sound atmosphere of the island. Listen to it at full loudness, good speakers, and multiply this in your head (I was their not during the loudest period) and imagine spending whole night listening to that music.

  To be fair, distracting at first, I never had difficulties sleeping as I was coming back from lab at 3 a.m. being too tired to give a damn. In the end I wished I could take a couple of adults to leave them in the garden just to troll my neighbours.

  After visiting many places around the world I have to say I saw sharks just a few times. "Thank you," whoever puts their fins in soups... On Heron the number of sharks and rays is amazing. They swim everywhere: in very shallow water (sometimes half of the shark's body is out of water!), they surround you when you swim, and jump out of water entertaining whoever is watching. Their curiosity sometimes gets creepy. Not for shark lovers! It's a real joy to swim in their company. Or even play chasing games as these guys can follow you for hours and pretend that they are scared when you try to approach them.

   Some people get freaked out and might even get stuck on the reef. At least one species of sharks can attack a person's leg in very shallow water. They just can't see the whole body and think it's something small.  As soon as you are fully immersed they no longer consider you as a source of food though.

 The underwater world really has a lot to show.  I've never swam or walked in a cay before, so the experience of having a reef just under your feet, shallow water, and crazy tidal currents is new. In those few rain-free day (and when my camera housing didn't get fogged) I could finally take some shots.

And finally, I was taking pictures of small and microscopic invertebrates too. The reef fauna is amazingly diverse. Every rock conceals endless tiny creatures of various shapes. However, I have a lot to learn about taking pictures of such small objects.

 On the last shot is a planktonic copepod. Towing plankton was quite an adventure. The towing net with weights was flying as a kite due to the massive winds that came together with the "nice" weather. Hope next time I visit the island at least I won't struggle with the kite... I mean the towing net.

 Sadly, that's about it regarding photography at Heron. I will have to try it in different places.

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