Part II – Junior Scuba Diving and the Great Barrier Reef
Our 10-year-old spawnling, EG Sinister, is a total absolute geek for anything to do with the ocean. That’s the thing about geeks. It’s not just about comic books and sci-fi TV. Being a geek is to be passionate about something you love and flying that flag with pride. For Sinister, it was pretty obvious from the beginning. There were so many signs leading him down the path of marine biology, I’m surprised we didn’t drown on the way.
My family is lucky enough to live in a country with amazing accessibility to the magic underneath the water. My childhood summers were spent along the Queensland east coast of Australia, including many days on my grandfather’s boat out on the Great Barrier Reef and amongst the Whitsunday Islands. Our stories would have been epic kids’ blog entries, filled with dozens of photos and DIY adventures. Of course, this was all before the internet.
We still have family and friends living in the area, and fortunately for our Mini Captain Nemo, the opportunity came for Sinister to start his own adventures with his Junior Open Water Scuba Diving Course and a Diving Safari Camp on Pelorus Island.
Sinister completed his course with Remote Area Dive in Townsville (Queensland, Australia)—You can learn more about the course in my earlier article, Part 1.
Townsville is a coastal town in North Queensland, right next to the Great Barrier Reef. While it is more commonly known for the Defence Force and Mining, it also has a fantastic reputation for marine research. The local university, James Cook University (JCU), has the best Marine Biology studies in the nation (possibly the world) and is strongly supported by the Australian Institute of Marine Studies, about 44km/30miles south of Townsville.
For a budding marine biologist like Sinister, it is the ideal place to start your diving adventures.
The course itself spreads over multiple days; the first day being theory and the second day usually in a pool for the first time with your tanks and kit. Depending on the instructors the subsequent dives, usually in an open water environment could be across another 2-5 days, not necessarily sequentially. The course is available to do online, however at Remote Area Dive, the instructors have found kids respond better with training in the shop. It gives them hands-on familiarity with the tank set-up while they learn.
Day 2 is when they throw them in the pool. This is the first chance the kids have to put all the skills to the test in a safe and managed environment. For most of the kids, it’s also the first time they see the science of day one put into practice—especially when we’re talking about the weight of their scuba gear.
“I knew it would be different, but that initial sense of relief when you realise the science is right. That’s pretty sweet.”
But Sinister was still hanging out for Days 3 and 4: Dive Safari on Pelorus Island. Now, I have to step in with some honesty here. I was both really excited for him (buoyed with the nostalgia of youthful memories) and absolutely terrified. Not for his diving! I had faith in his instructor and the course.
I was scared he was going to be disappointed. Part of our motivation to visit the Great Barrier Reef was not just to revisit my childhood. It’s because I am genuinely terrified the Great Barrier Reef will not be around long enough for us to do all of this at a later date.
Diving on the Great Barrier Reef
Many people don’t realize how big the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is. It is the largest living thing on Earth, an eco-system stretching out almost 2,300km/1400 miles along the east coast of Queensland and approximately 344,400km2/214,000miles2. It is so big it is made up of smaller reefs and islands, and needs to be differentiated between inner and outer reef.
The majority of photos you see of the GBR, with its vibrant colors and perfect clarity, are taken on the Outer GBR. They are 100% honest photos and experiences, but mainly because the Outer GBR is more protected from the direct impact of humans: longer travel times for tourists, often rougher waters, less accessible, more expensive, etc. If you ever have the chance to explore the Outer GBR, grab the opportunity with both hands. Ignore everything I just said because it is still absolutely worth seeing.
By comparison, the Inner reef is far more accessible to the general public, especially around the islands. These are the areas that act as nurseries for small juvenile fish as well as containing a variety of marine life. Previous dive trips with RAD have seen whales, manta rays, and dolphins—even a turtle rescue!
Unfortunately, the Inner Reef is also more susceptible to bleaching and the impacts of humans. Now, I don’t really care whether you understand climate change, or are a skeptic… That’s not true. I totally care if you’re a skeptic because I have seen first-hand the impact humans are having on the Reef. I’m talking coal-laden water spills near the GBR. I’m talking plastic in our oceans. I’m talking freshwater inundation from run-off into the sea. I’m talking coral bleaching at such significant levels, the GBR can’t completely recover before the next mass bleaching event. All of these factors don’t have time for skepticism.
And Sinister also saw this first hand.
So Why Go Diving If There Is Nothing to See?
Oh, there is plenty to see. And this is where Sinister’s Adventures in the Big Blue are a true example of his geekiness. Because HE wants to share his experiences, good and bad, to bring even more geeks to his fandom.
If you ask Sinister about his adventures, he raves and raves with a sparkle in his eye and love in his voice.
He talks about the suffocating fear he experienced on his first dive, surrounded by the Big Blue. It was Sinister’s first ever experience diving in open water, without any guide rope to orient himself. The visibility was about 20 meters but if you ask Sinister he will say it was about two meters. He couldn’t tell how far down he was or where to go. He freaked. A couple of times. But he was determined to do this. This was HIS geekdom. And he persevered, not only completing his dive but going back in the water at least three more times.
“If I could dive in this water, I can dive in anything. And I want to dive in everything!”
He talks about the coral, covering the bed of the ocean. Sinister saw glorious colors of purple and yellow and pink and orange, flowering like a garden as he swam by. He was enraptured by the vision of a lettuce coral, in all its wavy beauty. It was second only to the gigantic and bold brain coral, standing out amongst the crowd, demanding his attention. With a size larger than himself, Sinister felt the unrelenting urge to bow before this regal coral and totally secede from any ideas that he was in charge down there in the water. This watery domain belongs to the marine life and the marine life alone.
He talks about the Red Emperor fish, swimming amongst the crowd of divers. On their last dive, Jason (the Dive Instructor) took the divers along the reef wall to a sunken speed boat at 18 meters. Here at the wreck is a tamed Red Emperor. This fish has seen many groups come to his waters, and he is willing to share his space with them for a price: a raw egg. Sinister watched in awe as Jason cracked a raw egg in the water, showing how it holds its shape… until the Red Emperor comes for his toll. *nom nom* For Sinister, this was the closest he would ever come to being a fish himself.
He talks about seeing the damage on the reef and feeling the burning passion for doing something about it. Bleached coral can recover, but it needs support from humans. He knows how easy it is to ignore the call for help if you don’t see it yourself. And that’s where Sinister wants to share his story, and tell everyone about it.
“It felt amazing! You could still see the damage there. But I want to explore more. And I know others would want to see it too. It is beautiful. It is absolutely awesome. And it is part of our world, and where other creatures live. We can’t just let it die, and act like there is nothing we can do about it. I loved diving, but now I want to do more.”
And that’s the geek in him. Completing his Junior Open Water Scuba Diving course was probably the best thing ever in Sinister’s young life (“It totally was, mum!“). But it was nothing compared to the motivation he has to do something with it.
Being a GeekMom means I have the opportunity to support him in his geeky endeavors. Well, actually… EG Dad is the GeekDad with his own diving qualifications and has called dibs on this. Sinister wants to travel the world and inspire more kids to delve into the oceans. Inspire them to learn more about the marine life. To start with a diving course and see all of this beauty for yourself.
Where Do We Start?
If your spawnling loves Finding Nemo and Finding Dory; if your spawnling gazes longingly at conch shells; if your spawnling has even once asked you about what it might be like to be Aquaman…Well, now is the perfect time for you to sign up your geeky junior mariner and join the fandom.
For more information and tips, head over to Part 1: Have You Thought About a Junior Scuba Diving Course? It’s a great place to start with FAQ, and five top locations from around the world to test out your scuba diving skills.