It was in the Bronte Surf Club that I first resolved to go to Ningaloo; Tim Winton, famous author and patron of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, was speaking at the club about his life in WA and the campaign to save Ningaloo. Today of course Ningaloo is a Marine Park to rival many in the world; 300 km long with over 20 sanctuary zones. You could spend a year there and not be bored.
So when Reef Life Survey asked for volunteers to do this year’s surveys, my hand shot up like a rat up a drainpipe. Luckily the shore support was from the Research Station at Coral Bay, so there were quite a few spots, even if it meant some people bringing a tent.
It was ten days of intensive wake/eat/dive/dive/eat/enter data/sleep, as is the case on these trips, but what a way to get exhausted!
Every day brought new species to identify and experiences to never forget… like hearing whale song as you counted invertebrates along the transect, followed by a pair of humpbacks swimming past within sight underwater. Or watching a manta ray circle majestically over a cleaning station for five minutes, at times within touching distance. Or thousands of tiny blue-green chromis fizzing with iridescent colour, darting for cover in a coral head.
Of course, with tropical surveys, there is the ever-present challenge to identify so many species that are so alike. At Ningaloo it’s the parrotfish; so similar to each other in their juvenile and intermediate stages. Or the damselfish; many of which are a subtle variation on black/grey. Like an underwater detective, you’d look for clues, take photos and pore through books back on shore, for the satisfaction of reaching a valid ID.
There is also the reality of a reef that’s seen better days; following warming events and storms. Some coral gardens seem to be turning to rubble. But these are the minority, and hints of life returning are everywhere. So hope remains, while ever nature is given a chance, thanks in part to restrictions on human activities and the natural resilience of diverse ecosystems.
All too soon, though, it was time to board the minibus back to civilization. As we rode along the featureless plains, good friends with a shared passion for citizen science and bucket-loads of data for the scientists to use, I resolved to put my hand up again next time. This is something I could do over and over again.
See more photos from Ningaloo RLS on Marine Explorer’s Flickr