One of the unique activities you can do on Heron Island is a reef walk. During low tide a large part of the reef gets exposed and you can walk around the little streams looking at the coral from close up. You can join one of the guided reef walk tours, which are included in a stay here. A definite must as well, as it gives you a lot of insight into the reef life and the guides can pick up things and you can touch it.
We all met up for the reef walk about half an hour before low tide, got into reef shoes and took a balancing stick. One family in the group was keen to find an Epaulette Shark, so they were keeping an eye out for them.
Heron island is a marine park and you are not supposed to touch anything. During the reef walk you are allowed to touch some things that the guide points out, as it is for educational purpose. We got to hold different types of sea cucumbers, star fish and two types of soft coral.
Our guide pointed out all different types of coral. I never realized how many different types there are; 360 different species have been recorded. Coral is very fascinating, as it is an animal that behaves like a plant and creates rock. They look like little upside down jellyfish and live in the little holes. An odd one out is the Mushroom Coral, a solitary coral that is made up by one polyp and not a colony like most others.
We learned that coral bleaching is not a problem (yet) in this part of the Barrier Reef and that bleaching is not necessarily irreversible. It is even possible to grow coral and place it elsewhere. This can only be done in small scale though.
In the Southern section of the Great Barrier Reef the coral has earthier tones, so that explains why we saw less color than on the reef at Whitsunday Island.
The reef walk ended close to the reefs edge, a very pretty spot, just over knee deep water, with lots of fishies hiding in the coral. How many became visible to me as I stayed back while the rest of the group started to walk back. All the fish came out again and suddenly I felt like was standing in a giant fish tank.
We did not encounter a shark during the reef walk, but when we slowly made our way back the girl from the keen family found something. All the others had walked back already, but the family was still keen and they were still searching. I had stayed back a bit and heard the family calling out to the guide, they had found something. When the guide walked up she confirmed that it was indeed an Epaulette Shark! They can grow up to one meter and live on the reef and stay there during low tide. That is the time when they are active, as their predators have gone to deeper waters.
This one was trying to stay invisible from us by sticking its head under a coral, probably not aware that the rest of its body was still clearly visible. I decided to stay with the shark and was happy that I did so, because immediately after the others left it moved a bit further. This time I could see its head as well and was able to take some pictures of it!
It was a great experience, we learned a lot about coral and the reef. Gained a lot more understanding about corals and could see with our own eyes that everything here is related. A very delicate Eco system. I even got a close shark encounter and this one was not even frightening. I am ready for the bigger ones now…