November 2015 on the Great Barrier Reef
Captain Trevor Jackson
You can scroll through a thousand google images and not find its equal. I know this because I’ve just done it. The day after the trip ended, for hours, trying to find the equal of the aptly nicknamed Gigantus Gorgonia … a spectacular soft coral assembly, 42 metres down, way, way out in the Coral Sea. Exactly 5 years ago to this day Trip Director Kerrin Jones and I measured this whopper at an astounding 5.25 metres across. There wasn’t a tape measure on board that could do it in one hit so we had to take two down with us. This week we were expecting a different result, and we got one … but let me start at the beginning.
Gigantus Gorgonia is at Flinders Reef, about 130 miles north east of Townsville. Beautiful and remote, it rises out of a thousand metres to just break the surface at high tide. It’s a spectacular destination that was damaged by coral bleaching about 10 years ago … our main mission this week was to see how the recovery was coming along, to see if the area had regained the coral and fish vibrancy that had once made it a world class destination. 5 years ago things were progressing nicely. This time … the reef delivered in spades. The corals and marine life are back with a vengeance and for more reasons than I can count, Flinders Reef has returned to the big leagues.
For 3 days we explored and collated maps and information about sites old and new. Our final day led us to the southern section of the reef and a chance to check the growth on that whopper of a fan. New Trip Director Shona Whittaker and I geared up and found the requisite two tape measures, eager to see how much she had grown in the interim 5 years. The viz? 50m. So nothing had changed there. As we got to the fan, Shona pulled out the first tape measure. I ran it across the face of Gigantus, but as Shona went for the second tape, I waved her off … I didn’t need it … the fan had ‘shrunk’ … it’s now just 5 metres across?
An hour later, back on deck, our photos showed the shrinkage was due to some form of mechanical damage. Something had broken the fan, perhaps a big cod had been using the fan as camouflage and busted a section away…we will never know. Our disappointment was short-lived however as one dive later… a drift along a nearby wall, divers came onboard claiming there was ‘another fan, a bigger one!!!!!!! I put the tape measures in a bucket of fresh water to rinse them off … I think we may be needing them … soon.