I’ve recently discovered that I am a data nerd and that I am thirsty for information. When I go to a historic site for example, I love to do a tour, bring an audio guide, or at least do some research beforehand to really understand and appreciate what I’m looking at.

I was no different seeing the Great Barrier Reef.

Yeah, it’s lovely to look at and fun to spend the day in the ocean (and on the boat), but how do you even know what you’re looking at? How do you even know what to look for?

You could get very lucky (like me) and happen to meet an awesome marine biologist to take you, or you could just enjoy the provided educational sessions held on board QuickSilver’s Poseidon reef trip.

Quicksilver is one of the most popular organizers of Great Barrier Reef experiences in Port Douglas and Cairns, and offers the widest variety of reef trips. We ended up on Poseidon because just because it was the only boat with enough space left that day. That’s a great travelers tip: for cheap trips to the reef, just show up on the morning of departure and ask for a last-minute deal. They’ll slot you in wherever they have space for a fraction of the retail cost! A.ka. We spent $130 for two people versus about twice that.

I liked the company a lot, it’s clear they’re the seasoned pros and they hire an energetic, well-educated team. Most of the staff are educated in marine biology, they’re young, organized, and very passionate about what they do. Between the first two stops out of three, we were given a quick reef lesson where an actual marine biologist tells you all about some of the major “sights” and marine life.

Not to be a spoiler, but I learned there are over 1,500 species of fish in the coral reef, and that most of them change between being female, male or nothing throughout their life spans. They could start as male and become female, or vice versa, or start as nothing at all and then become male or female, or they could switch between all three. For example, the famous clownfish (like, Nemo in Finding Nemo) which live in the stinging sea anemone, are a female-dominant species. The female is the largest and most aggressive of the group, and keeps the little males in check by biting and chasing them. They live in a constant state of stress. When she eventually dies, the next largest clownfish becomes the leader. He is very content, having a stress-free life without a woman around (ha). As a result, he becomes the female and the cycle is complete! SO the clownfish stress hormone keeps the males male. Without it, they actually become female.

I have a weird memory sometimes.

We also talked about the mutual relationship between the clownfish and anemone. The anemone stings everything else, but the clownfish have learned how to coat themselves in the organism’s mucus, avoiding being stung and allowing them to live protected within the anemone. In return, the clownfish help protect the anemone, provide nutrients through waste and even cleaning.

The only thing more romantic is the butterfly fish, which (like many species) always live and travel in pairs. One keeps an eye out for predators while the other looks for food.

This was a beautiful and practical way to learn about the marine life – that I probably already knew all about back in grade 6 – because you can see them first-hand and up close, right after lecture! Another great way to learn while aboard the Poseidon is through their in-water tour during the third dive.

The instructor takes you on a “tour” of the reef, showing you great “points of interest” like the giant clams and giant groupers. They’re also trained to touch and safely interact with the wildlife so you can touch a sea cucumber (it’s slimy!) or call a reef shark out of its hiding place.

With picture-perfect, turquoise-blue seas, cloudless skies and hot weather all day long, we got unbelievably lucky with this trip and didn’t mind a little bit of chop.

As all sales reps will rightfully tell you, always check the weather before booking a reef trip. You want to make sure it’s sunny with not too much wind or waves. It can be difficult to predict the weather, but sites like Seabreeze.com are usually pretty accurate up to five days in advance.

Any other information junkies out there?

Stay curious xo,

-M

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