29 Nov 2013 Australia: Lady Elliot Island
I knew there was a shark there, but I lost sight of him. I must have just snorkeled over his four foot body laying camouflaged on the sea bed floor. I turned to have one last look and then couldn’t find the shark which I knew had to be there. Chris and I signaled to each and slowly swam back towards the spot we last saw him laying. We floated in the water above the undetectable wobbegong shark until an under current moved his back fin ever so slightly. Chris and both pointed under water at the same time and gave each other the ‘ok’ sign. We had re-found the wobbegong shark.
The wobbegong camouflages so well they are virtually undetectable when laying still.
One of the benefits of being both a country and a continent is being surrounded by water and Australia’s waters are home to an amazing diversity of aquatic wildlife. One such place that stands out as a once in a life time, or as many times as you can possibly go, is Lady Elliot Island.
At the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot sits 53 miles/ 85 kms off shore. With the highest level of conservation status designated by the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority, the island is a green zone with no collecting species, harassing animals or fishing or any kind. Animals have been living and pausing for rest along their migration routes for years relying on it’s water for protection.
Accessible only by small passenger plane and far enough away from shore to not be as affected by direct runoff, Lady Elliot Island (LEI) is a wildlife bubble waiting to absorb the keen observer. Below is a school trevally that we swam around as they rested by the island for a few days.
We spent five nights and six days with wide eyes peering through our snorkel mask at all the different marine species we saw. We splashed out some cash and took advantage of a deal to stay six nights for the price of five including breakfast, dinner and two dives a day. Five years ago we wouldn’t have been in the position to afford the chance to go to this island. As a traveler there are endless things for one to spend their money on. We could easily spend $1000 a day if the sky was endless. Most of the time we make significant sacrifices to stretch our dollars to be able to have an opportunity like LEI. There are certain excursions, places to visit and things to do that require a traveler to drop some money. We try to pick and choose wisely which excursions if we went home without the experience we would regret the missed opportunity.
We were so happy with our decision to go to LEI as we observed dozens of green sea turtles swimming all around the island. What Lady Elliot offers is a chance to see a huge amount of diverse wildlife in a small spot. We were so busy diving and snorkeling that even tho the island is only 110 acres, it took us four days to even walk around the entire island because we were spending so much time in the water.
If you are a new diver, fill up your dive book at LEI, this is a great place to get comfortable under the water. A dive package was included with our booking and it is a perfect spot for new divers to gain confidence. The visibility is amazing, (often 20+ meters), many of the dives are shallow (around a comfortable 16 meters) and we got to swim with manta rays and hear humpback whales singing.
If your scheduling allows, call to dive shop and ask what their dive calendar bookings are like. By doing so we were able to book our stay right in between when two universities were going to be on the island. Our dive groups were small and the guides were extremely knowledgeable, passionate and safety conscious.
Loading up all the gear for the dive.
This was a small white tip reef shark swimming under us but don’t miss the turtle in the upper right corner of this picture.
Bottom line is LEI was one of the best things we ever did for viewing marine life. It was worth the splurge. Although we went there for the diving, the food and staff were also amazing. We were on a first name basis with most the people on the island by the time we left.
With a pointier beak and more edgy shell than the green turtle, above a hawks bill turtle swam by.
If you ever have the chance in your life, get yourself to one of the natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef and spend some time there. We snorkeled several times with the manta above, but where she goes when she leaves LEI is a mystery. There is so much research and study to be done to understand what type of life these animals live. By choosing to support eco-certified businesses we help conserve wildlife habit. Our time to explore this planet is small, yet our impact can be huge. As travelers, globally where we spend our dollars speaks the loudest. When I am making purchases any where on this planet, I think back to experiences I had like swimming with the manta rays and try to support the least impactful companies that I can. Swimming with the mantas was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
And just as I had the opportunity, I hope you can too.