Bellies Full of Coral

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from Jennifer Marohasy

April 5, 2023 By jennifer

I spent some of last weekend at the Great Barrier Reef, with my daughter sliding off a boat called Reef Encounter moored variously at Norman and Saxon reefs to the northeast of Cairns. The sun was shining, the water was crystal clear and so warm – a delicious 29 degrees Celsius

Boarding the boat, Reef Experience, from which we were transferred to Reef Encounter; photographed by Tobi.

The corals were mostly various shades of beige, which is the colour of healthy corals.

Caroline swimming down to the turtle at 8 metres. Photograph by Tobi on Scuba.

A close-up of the turtle by Caroline. Photographed with a TG6 Olympus camera.

The fish were much more brightly coloured than the corals, and so cheeky. A big difference between wandering through a forest versus snorkelling over corals is that the fish are often ‘in your face’.

A clown fish photographed by Caroline on the weekend.

Clown fish will greet you head on.

Caroline about 5 metres down with the clowns, photographed by me.

Trigger fish are usually territorial and quite shy. Except at Norman reef, even the Trigger fish came over to greet me on Saturday morning.

A Trigger fish lying over soft corals at Norman Reef photographed by me with a TG6 Olympus camera.

As I swam away the Trigger fish left the corals and followed me.

My daughter Caroline was my free diving buddy for the few days we spent in and out of the water.

Caroline under the water with her TG6 Olympus camera.

Me and can you see the parrots to the left, under the water.

Caroline’s favourites are the parrot fish: brightly coloured and with a beak (instead of teeth) that they use to various bite into little corals or scrape from the surface of large bolder corals.

A Parrot fish photographed by Caroline on the weekend at Saxon reef.

Parrot fish bit chunks out of live coral. Photograph by Caroline.

A coral colony freshly munched on by Parrot fish.

A Porites (Bolder coral) that has been scraped by the beak of a Parrot fish. Photographed by Caroline on the weekend.

A Bumphead parrot fish will feed on about 5 tonnes of live coral in a single year. They often hang around in groups of about 30, with that one cluster all up consuming more coral than the entire live export coral trade takes each year from the Great Barrier Reef (100 tonnes versus 150 tonnes). In short, these fish have bellies full of coral – lots of coral.

I’ve watched them, not last weekend, but at Bougainville Reef, far to the northeast, like buffalo across an open plain: kicking up the dust – except it was sand. And eating the grass – except it was coral.

These Bumphead parrots were photographed by Tobi.

We live in an age that tends to promote empathy for victims above all else, so I am surprised there are not stories cancelling Parrot fish.

Worldwide, there are some 130 species of corallivorous fishes (fishes that consume live coral) from 11 different families, with Butterflyfishes (family Chaetodontidae) accounting for approximately half of all of these.

A butterfly fish photographed by Caroline at Saxon Reef on the weekend.

I have been visiting the coral reefs off Cairns for about 53 years now, since I was seven years old. Despite the claims they are dead and dying, I mostly still find healthy corals, cheeky fish, crystal clear warm water, blue skies and happy divers. It is a travesty that these reefs are so maligned by the righteous activists that hate coal mines. They exploit the concept of coral reef as victim to promote anxiety amongst children.

I was second last out of the water most afternoons just on sunset. This ‘above water’ photograph was taken by Caroline also on her Olympus TG6.

Another underwater photograph by Caroline at Saxon reef on the weekend.

TG6 Olympus cameras can take closeups as well as wide angle photographs.

Tobi took this photograph, at the weekend under the water. What a perfect coral, so far untouched by the Parrots that swim about munching and scraping corals at the Great Barrier Reef.


Notes about the reef mafia and funding to save what doesn’t need saving: