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Day 4: Ribbon Reef No. 3 and Escape Reef!

Early in the morning after breakfast we were greeted by a pod of spinner dolphins! They were swimming in front of the boat and jumping out of the air! They looked like they were playing a game and they were fun to watch! They stayed about fifteen minutes before moving on with their next activity.

Ribbon Reef #3
I swam around Ribbon Reef #3! The entire reef structure was cylindrical with steep drop offs. The yellow tail fusiliers and the giant trevally loved hanging around these drop off areas. I also encountered a black tipped reef shark!! It swam close to me, probably a little curious of who I am. After I waved at it, the shark swam away. The shark must’ve been four feet long! Nothing threatening at all, but an interesting shark to observe! One of my favorite animals I did see on this reef were the sea slugs! They were white with a yellow ring around the perimeter of the slug. Someone said they saw octopi in this reef as well! The anchor-line attracted a number of fish, especially moorish idol and banner fish. This beautiful reef offered really good photography opportunities! Some of my favorite fish to view here were checkerboard wrasse, giant trevally, bullethead parrotfish, dog faced pufferfish, slingjaw wrasse, pennant bannerfish, giant clams, black tipped reef shark, Moorish idol, Pacific Sailfin Tang, humpnose unicornfish, and red and black anemone fish!

We pulled up our anchor and traveled to our next destination, Escape Reef. In the meantime, we had a lecture in the upper deck regarding conservation on the Great Barrier Reef. We found out that there were a number of problems that the overall reef was experiencing! Over 50-55% of the coral reefs were in perfect or pristine condition. 24% of the coral reefs were damaged from constant cyclone bombardment. The hard corals were impacted, but the soft corals thrived in these areas. Lizard Island had some damaged hard coral from the recent cyclones, but you do notice a higher amount of soft corals filling in where the hard corals were. 21% of the reefs were damaged from crown of thorns. Crown of thorns was a native large sea star the feeds on plankton and algae. They were cover the hard coral and eat the algae, killing the hard coral in the process. Since some reefs encounter more run off from the mainland, the algae levels seem to be higher in these reefs, encouraging crown of thorn outbreaks do to the abundance of food. The only way scientists were able to control these start fish was to inject vinegar into them. This would kill the sea star. 5% of the reefs encounter coral bleaching from chemicals from the mainland of Australia. Ocean chemistry was another factor contributing to a changing reef ecosystem. All the reefs I encountered on this trip, I really did not see any degradation. I did see some storm damage in one reef area and some algae patches in other reefs, but overall all the reefs were in great condition. The reefs were very adaptable as well! If there was one disturbance, many unique species of fish would fill into that area to deal with the disturbance. Algae patches also attract a huge number of fish to the area.
Escape Reef
This reef was my all-time favorite reef of the trip!! You could see coral towers and small valleys between the coral reefs. There were many large schools of fish swimming everywhere!! I loved swimming between the small valleys and watching huge schools of fish follow each other during lunch time. The goatfish in this area loved to dig up a lot of food, which attracted at least four to five surgeonfish behind it. Stingrays could be seen in the sand flat areas here. The six barred wrasse were always up to shenanigans as they chased each other and other wrasse species around the coral towers. There was a hawksbill turtle that was swimming around the reef at the time, but it was scared of the glass bottom boat. On the ship, the marine biologists had a touch tank for all of the people to view or hold different creatures! They had sea cucumbers, sea stars, shells, and mushroom coral. I got to hold a pineapple sea cucumber. They were firm, yet squishy to hold! The mushroom coral was very unique in that it was not attached to any coral colony! There were small polychaeta worms swimming around the sea cucumbers. This reef had the largest diversity of fish I have ever seen! There must have been over one hundred species of fish that I saw when snorkeling for two hours.
Some of my favorite fish and animals that I saw in Escape Reef were slingjaw wrasse, Christmas tree worms, many species of parrotfish and wrasse, many butterflyfish, moorish idol, Pacific Sailfin tang, longnose butterflyfish, burrowing clams, giant clams, moon jellyfish, hawksbill turtle, imitator damsel, orange finned anemone fish, and scissor tailed sergeants….to name a few.

In the evening, we had a great dinner with wine and cheese for dessert. We had a quiz game that we all played. Our team won a Coral Expeditions II pen! (Limited Edition) I was really happy how our North tour turned out! I got to see many crystal clear reefs with a variety of different fish and marine animals! I loved all the reefs I visited! Each was completely different from the last reef and had different species. Lizard Island and Cooktown were fun land places to visit and explore! The next morning, we will be arriving in Cairns and getting ready for our next stop to the middle reefs of the Great Barrier Reef and Hinchinbrook Channel!!


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