Ningaloo Reef Experience

Hello! This evening I returned from my 8 day trip exploring the Ningaloo Reef and the creatures on it. We worked with the Department of Parks and Wildlife once again and assisted an honors student with her project on the giant clam. The field work consisted of waking up at 5am every day to be on the road by 6am so that we could survey clams at low tide without being tossed around by the waves. We used haphazard sampling and threw a quadrat around 25  times at each site and counted how many clams and sea urchins we found all together. Everything was great and the weather was beautiful. The water was warm and we had a lot of time to explore and see the unique megafauna around the reef.

Prior to sampling and determining giant clam abundances within the Ningaloo Marine Park, we spent two days in Coral Bay. Normally, CIEE students and our director Paul drive up to Coral Bay and Exmouth which takes 2 or 3 days. Instead, with only three people in our program, we flew up, saved money, and had extra time to snorkel and enjoy the area of Western Australia where the desert meets the ocean. In Coral Bay we swam with manta rays. We saw TONS of them barrel rolling. They were so close that I could have touched them (but of course I didn’t since they are wild animals). There was also the opportunity to swim with a tiger shark, but I wasn’t quite brave enough for that. I also went on a sunset ATV tour which got my adrenaline pumping. I got going up to 57 kilometers per hour while watching the sun set upon the beach. It was more fun than I expected….maybe Devin will teach me how to ride a motorbike once I get home.DSCN1180

Sampling clams was a lot of fun, but it was a totally different experience than working with woylies. We just counted the clams and measured how long they were. As the tide rolled in, this meant using our snorkel, flipping upside down in the water, and trying not to float away while trying to get a precise measurement. It was hard at times especially in deep water. I ended up wearing my rain paints in the water to try to get some extra protection from the bugs. There were sand flies and mosquitoes eating me alive every second! I think these bug bites are going to take quite a while to heal. There was also one day of sampling where we saw a small animal moving on the beach looking quite confused. It turned out to be a baby green turtle walking away from the beach instead of baby sea turtle (2)towards it. Paul, Eric, and I took a moment to appreciate the beautiful baby sea turtle and took some candid shots before releasing it and watching it happily swim away into the ocean. Normally, you aren’t supposed to handle sea turtles, but if we had left the juvenile there any longer a bird or feral cat would have easily swooped it up and eaten it.

The CIEE group stayed at a placed called Yardie Station. We were surrounded by red dirt and tons of fossils of sea life from millions of years ago. I found some awesome pieces of coral and am hoping to give one to my Paleontology professor when I return to California Lutheran University in the fall. Eric, Paul, and I went on evening walks to try and get some pictures of kangaroo and to see what fossils we could find. We ran into a lot of kangaroo skeletons along the way. Slightly gross, kind of interesting…It was an adventure.

The last day of surveying, Paul, Eric, and I had to go to a site by ourselves. We really just wanted to get it over with, so we might have been secretly praying that we wouldn’t find any clams so it would go quickly. When we got there, the bugs attacked me. Eric said he looked at me and thought that he was looking at my hair, but it was moving. I was covered in a thick layer of mosquitos.  I threw myself into the water to try to get some relief but I really couldn’t. I was being eaten alive. Paul and Eric got a good laugh out of it, but I could feel each and every bite. At the end of surveying, we all made a run for the car. Paul and Eric recommended that I leave my snorkel mask on and cover my mouth, cheeks, and lower face with my rashie (rashguard). I proceeded to do so and sprinted towards the car looking absolutely ridiculous. I had a swarm of bugs surrounding me and my goggles started to fog up so I couldn’t see where I was going. I was the last to reach the car and Paul pulled out of the sand dunes as if we were in an Indiana Jones movie. It was insane, but being eaten alive by bugs makes you do insane things. Eric and I both wish that we had used our goPro cameras to film the ridiculous series of events. spottyMy nickname of the trip was “spotty” because my arms legs, back, neck, and face were spotted with bug bites. There are many photos of me drinking cider, watching the sunset, or even just sitting and chatting with my shirt or rashie pulled over half of my face. No matter how much bug spray I used, nothing could save me.

The last full day that we had near Exmouth, Eric and I decided to go swimming with Whale Sharks. It was a full day tour and the crew and skipper were so fantastic. The water was warm and they provided us with so much information about the gigantic and graceful animals that we had the opportunity to swim with. We went for a morning snorkel to make sure that all of our gear worked just fine. By this point, I had been snorkeling so much that nothing was really new and exciting, but it was still beautiful. Then we were off to find whale sharks. The boat was in communication with a plane overhead that let us know where whale sharks were surfacing. Over the course of the day we swam with two whale sharks and were in the water 5 times. I was group one, so after the guide jumped in we were the next group. “Go go go go!” was our cue to get in the water as quietly and quickly as possible to swim towards the gentle giant. We situated ourselves so that it would swim right past us and we got a really great view. As soon as the whale started to pass us we had to turn and kick as fast as humanly possible in order to keep up with it. It was a really great day because we also saw a humpback whale

and cruised along side of it for a while. We also saw a tiger shark and a dugong. I can’t really explain how cool the day was, so I guess you are just going to have to come to the beautiful World Heritage Site that is the Ningaloo Reef and see for yourself.

We cooked dinner for each other every night and had cocktail hour at 6pm every night drinking beer and cider and talking about music, movies, life, futures, dreams, etc. It was a really fun experience. It is sad to think that is was my last time traveling with this group of people. Now it is time for me to do heaps of laundry, eat the remaining food in my flat, and crush these 2 papers, 1 presentation, 2 final exams, and class blog so I can enjoy Thailand and my family’s arrival to the land down under.

Thank you for being such loyal blog followers throughout my semester here. I am sad that it is coming to an end.

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