It’s early afternoon, and I’m snorkelling above a coral reef in what is widely known as one of the most pristine places in the world – Lord Howe Island, 300 miles off the east coast of Australia. Surrounded by hundreds of brightly coloured fish (and equally colourful coral) I’m scanning the water looking every which way with my child-sized flippers & mask on, trying to remember how to breathe through one of these damn things, and attempting to maintain my chill.
Not quite as easily said as done, as I’ve also just spotted the sharks that I was really, really hoping I wasn’t going to see.
I should quickly explain that they were in fact baby sharks. But still, my heart is racing and I’m performing a mental check of my body hoping that I didn’t cut my leg shaving this morning and that a feeding frenzy is not about to get underway…
Suffice to say, I survived. We all did, in our group of 8. In fact, once we realised just how harmless they were, some of us might have deliberately gotten a little bit closer to the cute wee blighters. In the end, you had to drag us out of the water – a theme which was to repeat itself over and over again, over the next 9 days.
We began our journey by rolling off a tiny commuter plane and straight into the shadows of Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird, to an area named Little Island, where local man and avid environmental activist Ian Hutton starts calling down Providence Petrel birds from the sky. Yes, calling them down.
They circle and swoop above our heads in their hundreds like something straight out of Jurassic Park, but a loud noise from the ground will bring them flying towards you at a clip – it might be a sign that their nests are being invaded, and they will drop from the skies immediately to protect their young. Docile and endemic to the island, it’s just one of the species we are learning is perilously close to being endangered due to rising water levels and unseasonable temperatures.
I’m here on Lord Howe island with a motley crew – we are students (two, Hugo and Amelia) and mentor (that’d be me). We are a film crew working with Adobe to document the work these students create as they explore the island and create meaningful artwork to reflect all that they are seeing. We are members of the dedicated Passion Passport team, who have created and co-ordinated 3 separate journeys for 6 different students from Patagonia to the Maasai Mara to here, in Australia. And we are all here together to try and raise awareness of climate change, and the catastrophic effect it is having on our earth.
I won’t describe each day’s activities in minute detail for you – they were too numerous to count. But meeting with the locals on Lord Howe Island (a fascinating place in itself which only allows for 350 permanent residents and 400 visitors each year), those who are rising to the challenge of protecting their endemic species and nurturing some once thought extinct (hello, Phasmid!) – it becomes clear very quickly that this little island in the middle of the blue is a complete microcosm of our world as a whole.
The coral here is fading. The island only narrowly missed a catastrophic coral bleaching incident last year (much like that which is happening in the Great Barrier Reef) due to a lucky mixture of tides and water temperatures. That luck isn’t expected to hold out…
The towering Mt Gower, which many of our group hiked, is home to it’s very own rainforest. But that rainforest and the cloud cover that hovers there is rising due to rising temperatures. There are birds which live in this rainforest – but once the cloud cover rises to the very top of the mountain, there’s nowhere else for it to go – which means these native species will no longer have a home, and they will cease to exist. It’s a sobering thought when you read it on paper, or on a computer screen. It’s downright horrifying when you see it with your own eyes.
We chat with the people we meet every single day – whether its the team at the turtle watching company who advise us (and come and find us, wherever we are on the island!) when the best time to find turtles is; or the locals we meet as we ride our bicycles – everyone is keen to share their stories of this magical place. Our waiter Adam mentions he’s going rock fishing with a mate later on in the day. That afternoon we scramble down sheer rock faces aided by thick ropes, and find them casually fishing, enjoying a beer, and eyeing up the shark doing circles around their fishing spot. We take a trip out to dizzying Balls Pyramid (rising 1,841 feet from the ocean) where, with the help of a drone expertly piloted by Zach Fackrell, we see the peak in a dizzying 360 degrees – far more than we could have even seen from our small floating standpoint. It was on Balls Peak that the aforementioned Phasmid was discovered alive back in 2003. A massive conservation effort is now underway to protect and breed them so that they can eventually be reintroduced to the wild.
At the end of nine days, with a seemingly permanent layer of salt encrusted on our skin, and an hour and a half before our flight to Sydney was due to take off, what did we do?
We went for one last snorkel on the reef.
We ducked and dove and swam amongst the fish that were now familiar both in name and appearance to us. We realised how much we were going to miss our island home. And we showed up at the airport still in our bathing suits, hair dripping, with the biggest smiles on our faces.
If you’d like to learn more about Passport to Creativity
To watch a video of our time on Lord Howe, visit here
To learn more about Passport to Creativity
To read more about our time on Lord Howe Island (via Passion Passport)
And finally, to see the culmination of the students work on Earth Day in LA, click here!