Monday, February 10, 2014

The Kimberley, part 1: The Water and the Reef

Last week, I volunteered for a friend/D's colleague, who needed an assistant for her research on water quality in the western Kimberley. My ability to label things and follow instructions was happily traded for what amounted to a free holiday in one of the more remote (but still pretty swanky) places on earth, and I got to visit places and see things the tourists couldn't imagine.

We stayed at a pearl farm which also caters to tourists and researchers, which was a huge bonus, as we got to eat in the crew mess hall and it was DELICIOUS omg. When I win the lottery, I'm hiring a cook like Will to make food for me every day. 

Our accommodation, complete with storm windows for the cyclones. Not pictured: the many geckos, frogs, and bugs we shared it with.

The scariest mangrove forest I ever did see, about a 30 second slink from above accommodation.

This part of the world experiences absolutely batshit insane tides. The neap tides (smaller tides) mean the water depth changes by only 2-3 meters (~9-12 FEET), but during spring tides (bigger tides), the water could drop and rise by TWELVE FREAKING METERS in the course of a few hours. That, ladies and gentleman, is usually considered a fuckton of water moving fast.

The "boat ramp" at high tide. At low tide, the water level receded about halfway to the horizon.
See how there's smooth, glassy water in the foreground, and choppy water behind it? Well, that smooth water is freaking UPWELLING in an estuary channel, which is due to the tide being so freaking enormous that when the bottom water encounters cliffs underwater (yes cliffs, whole other story), that water shoots straight up to the surface. This causes crazy, slightly scary water to boat through.

That's a whirlpool in the water, again due to the crazy tides. The picture doesn't capture it, but it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up to see and listen to it roaring.

Most of the research took place at this coral reef, which gets exposed at low tide.

The coral reef I worked on, at low tide. I had to climb up those waterfalls like Tarzan.

I made it to the top of the reef! The boat is in the distance, taking samples. The water is still streaming off the reef below my feet.
The reef is made up of mostly coral-building algae, so it's denser than the delicate, brightly-coloured corals you've seen on Nat Geo, and that means we can clamber all over it and walk on the top out to the middle of the reef. It's magnificently frustrating to walk on though (at least for timid me), because you're essentially walking on seaweed (can't see what's under it or how deep it is, and it's slimy), on top of loose gravel (as pieces of coral break underfoot), on top of incredibly uneven topography, where one footstep is on top of the coral, the next is in one of these sandy holes:

On the green bits, the water is only a few inches deep, but that hole easily came up to my knees. And of COURSE most of the holes have to be just slightly bigger than my legspan, so I couldn't step over the holes.

The gently sloping edge of the reef, at super low tide.

Science fashion is best fashion.

more to come....

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