By Rachel Valencia
Hi everyone! Rachel here, reporting from Cairns, Australia. After spending six incredible days in the Red Center, we traveled to tropical Queensland. The transition from a dry desert to the humid tropics was quite shocking, but we quickly acclimated to the warm breezes, clear waters, and the loud sounds of parrots and bats. Our hostel was located in downtown Cairns, near the lagoon, Night Market, and dive center. Our mission for this week in Cairns was to become certified scuba divers while exploring the Great Barrier Reef. For me, I always wanted to visit the GBR because of the abundance of marine life and large coral structures. To become scuba certified in a place like this was a dream come true.
On Monday morning, we were picked up by Ethan, our scuba instructor. He brought us to CDC Dive Center where we signed paperwork, listened to a brief orientation about our week, and then took our certification card photos. Then, he drove us to the dive center’s pool. There was a classroom on site where we watched videos and filled out worksheets for the written part of our certification. After that, we did our swim test and then learned about our equipment. I went back to the hostel that day feeling quite overwhelmed with all of the information we just learned. In addition to remembering key information like how to make sure you don’t get nitrogen bubbles in your skin and how you can never, no matter what, stop breathing, we also had to take four quizzes.
The next morning, we woke up early to go back to the pool, we watched a video and then jumped right in. We grabbed our gear and stayed in the shallow end to do some skills. I have to admit, I was quite nervous to begin the in-water portion. It took some getting used to before I felt comfortable underwater. I had a hard time equalizing and slowing my breathing, especially on our first little descent. Once we descended a few more times, the equalizing got much easier, and my breathing became normal. We practiced in the pool all day long, in preparation for our dives in the ocean on Wednesday. We came out of the water that day, sunburned and nervous, wondering how the next day was going to go.
We woke up at 6:45 to take a ferry over to Fitzroy Island. It was about an hour ride filled with nervous jitters and light-hearted conversation with other travelers. Once we stepped foot on the tropical island, we were ushered over to the dive shop and put into our stingers. We split into two groups: Jolene (a solo diver from Ireland), Katie, and me, and Olive, Andrew, Jamie, and Bella, (Wes and Matt were back exploring the island). Our group went first. We walked right into the water where the visibility was remarkable for this site. Usually the vis. is around half a meter to 2 meters. Today, it was around 4-5 meters. We descended into the ocean and landed on the sand. We performed skills we needed to execute in dive one, and then we went to explore.
We came back while the second group went out to do their first dive one. Olive recounts the feeling of anxiety before her first dive; “It was whack,” she said. Their dive went just as smooth as ours and we all ending up meeting for lunch.
After lunch, Katie, Jolene and I, went out for our second dive. During this dive, we practiced more skills and then we went to explore. We saw two sting rays. One was especially intriguing because it changed from brown to bright blue spots in seconds, living up to its name of Blue Spotted Ray. We ended the day with dinner at the resort restaurant and then retreated to our rooms for a good night’s rest.
Thursday morning we woke up nice and early to hop on the ferry which took us to the Outer Reef, called Moore Reef. It took another hour to get there, but time went by fast as we tried to remember the last skills we needed to pass. Today was certification day and we all had even more nervous jitters than before. Once we arrived at the reef, we got into our gear and jumped right into the ocean. I was a little nervous to practice my CESA, or controlled emergency swimming ascent, but I decided to go first because I just wanted to get it over with. Of course, it wasn’t that bad, but I was excited to know I was only a few more skills away from being certified. After a few people did their CESA, we dove down to 18 meters, which is our limit as an Open Water Diver. As we came back up we saw an anemone with clown fish inside. Their white stripe was glowing blue as if someone turned on a blacklight under the water. I was pretty excited to see the famous Nemo fish. We went back up to the surface to have lunch.
We went back in for our final dive. We did our last surface skills test and then descended along a coral wall, which was about 18-20 meters deep. We didn’t go all the way down but we used it as a reference as we dove along. We reached the bottom, around 10 meters and there we saw a grey tip reef shark! It was absolutely incredible. The gorgeous creature just swam passed us and then off into the caves in the reef. Our instructor’s favorite marine creature is a shark so he was absolutely stoked- thanks Olive and Andrew for the sighting!
It was a great way to officially become certified scuba divers. We are all pretty excited to continue diving in the future! Now, we are off to our new adventure in the Daintree Rainforest. More updates to come!
Giving back with Conservation Volunteers of Australia.