Great Barrier Reef – Lady Musgrave Island

The girls were excited on the way out to to the Great Barrier Reef!

Retch-a-rama

From Bundaberg, Lady Musgrave is nearly 100 km from the shore.  (It’s only 60km from Agnes Waters, but we heard the larger boat from Bundaberg would be smoother).  That meant a two hour boat ride.  It started out well enough.

We hit open water with large swells in a large three level boat which could easily fit about 200 (but on this day had only about 75).  30 minutes into the trip: Up, down, side-to-side, and swaying.  People started to barf.  Some kids puked like champs, others cried and howled.  Heaving sounds, retching sounds, moaning filled the interior of the cabin.  The stewards ran around collecting filled vomit bags and replacing them with fresh ones. They also ran around with buckets of soapy water and bio hazard wipes cleaning areas where people missed their mark.  Some people would puke discretely into their bag while others make loud deep hurling and coughing sounds.  The retch-o-rama symphony was par for the course according to the stewards.  There was fruit cocktail colored vomit, boba vomit, and even cream vomit.  And the smell was especially delightful.  All the senses were titillated on this part of the journey.

  • Pro tip: The back of the boat on the bottom level is the best place to be. It sways less, there is less up and down, and there is fresh air.

Kylie and Alyssa weren’t doing well do I took them to the back of the boat.  Ten passengers all hugging their barf bags were already back there.

I stood in the back hugging Kylie and Alyssa and thought about what we were about to see.  To truly get to some of mother nature’s wondrous places, one must get to where people can’t frequent.  Mass tourism and trampling feet have destroyed many beautiful spots.  I knew it would be worth the ride, I hoped that Kylie and Alyssa would think so too.

Island Paradise

Aerial View of Lady Musgrave  Photo credit: Australian Government

The primary type of coral in this area is branching coral.  It usually grows about three centimeters per year, however in this area is grows nearly 15 centimeters per year.  Coral is an animal, plant, and rock.  It starts as a polyp, after anchoring and starting to grow it has a single celled Zooxanthellae that lives in it that provides most of its nutrients.  It is also a plant that photosynthesis.  However when it reaches above the waterline, it dies and breaks off.  Over thousands of years a lot of the coral broke off and started the island which was then seeded by passing birds.  Several species of birds nest yearly.  The tern guano was so prized, it was mined in the early 1900s for gun powder. Now it’s part of the Capricornia National Park system.  You can even camp there but must bring all your supplies as there are no facilities at all.  While most of the beach is coral pieces, the north side is finely crushed coral in which loggerhead and green turtles nest.  Although it is a green zone (no hunting or fishing), aborigines have been coming to the island for centuries and are still permitted to hunt and gather non-commercially.

To make life easier on themselves, miners populated the island with goats for eating to save on transportation costs.  And goats being goats, ate everything on the island except for one tree.  In 1973 the last goats were eradicated from the island.  Mother nature was left to her own devices, and the island recovered remarkably well.

Entering Musgrave Island Kylie’s Treasure
A coral beach

Turtles and cleaning stations

We saw several green turtles and one Hawksbill Turtle which is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List (click here).  Degradation of nesting habitats, fishery incidental mortality, egg poaching, and marine habitat loss were the primary reasons for an 86% decline in their population.  According to the guides, plastic is now a major contributor to turtle deaths.  Floating plastic bags look just like jellyfish, a favorite turtle treat.  They eat the plastic bag, it gets trapped in their throat, and then they starve.

Turtles regard these parts of the reef as cleaning stations.  In other words, they swim up and park.  While parked, a whole host of fish come up and clean the turtle’s shell by eating algae off the shell – spa treatment at the Lady Musgrave reef.

In the fish tank


Swimming at the reef is like swimming inside the aquarium. There are hundreds of fish, and it is teeming with life.  Branching and Brain coral provide foundations and habitats for fish and for giant clams to anchor themselves.

All the tips of the coral were a splendid vibrant purple.  Any photo I took did not do it justice.

A Blue Linckia Starfish latched upon purple tipped branching coral

The fish biodiversity was intense and awesome.  Some fish schooled, while others were solitary.  The colors ranged from earth tones to wild rainbow iridescent.  Going into the water was like the Pure Imagination scene from Willie Wonka and the chocolate factory.

Moorish Idol

Steep Headed Parrot Fish

Pacific Sailfish Tang

Sunset Wrasse

Everyone had a good time.  Kylie struggled a bit with the current, waves, and trying to figure out snorkeling.  She lasted about 40 minutes which was good for a first time.  Being Alyssa’s second time, and now a little older, she handled it like a champ.  Sharleen did well also, this time making sure her goggles were defogged before starting.

Alyssa and Sharleen snorkel together

Reef and Climate change

The Lady Musgrave reef is located on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef System which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage SiteCoralwatch.org developed a great info graphic sheet about the reef to help pinpoint key points about the reef (Click here).  In effect it ties national pride and economic impact to reef health.

Coral thrives between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit  (23-29 Celsius).  The rich colors in coral come from a diversity of algae.  Algae are sensitive to a variety of inputs including Agricultural runoff.  A great article on the theconversation.com highlights this issue. (Click here).  Because it is farther south and receives less traffic than the northern part, the reef here is very healthy.  There was very little bleaching.  (We tried to do the citizen science data collection, but managing photos, Kylie, the data sheet, and seeing what I wanted to see  was just too much.   In hindsight, either a longer dive or multiple days would have worked better.)

This was an example of a thriving and vibrant reef.  A combination of regulations (setting aside areas and limiting their use), structured tourism (eco tourism, educating tourists who go to the reef system, and regulating what they can and can’t do there), generating national pride and linking that to economic gain (UNESCO identifications as well as promoting the Great Barrier Reef), and increased scientific investigation are certainly helping this area of the reef.

In Closing

Later Kylie got a little sick.  She developed a low-grade fever and her head hurt.  She told me that she had swallowed a lot of ocean water, which got me wondering what is in ocean water and could that be causing the problem.

Photo: David Littschwager What is in a few drops of ocean water magnified 25x

Reading about what is in ocean water (click here) was an interesting read.  It made me worry if all those organisms that were so yummy for coral, fish, and algae would be harmful for Kylie’s tummy.  Thankfully it wasn’t (at least in the quantity that she had).  Her fever broke overnight and she was back to full power in a couple of days.

One comment

  1. […] had.  At other times, we explored only fractions of vast wild places after several days (like the Great Barrier Reef, Krugar National Park , and Gulung Mulu.  We saw both amazing human accomplishments (like the […]

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