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Cooler water temperatures and geographical distance from mainland nutrient run-off has helped protect coral from large-scale bleaching — but, of course, you have to get under the surface to see it all. Our party of first-time scuba divers spans the full gamut of possible attitudes. Two are cautiously confident, one may be susceptible to seasickness and another, me, is not-so-quietly experiencing heart palpitations at the mere thought of breathing underwater. Despite all the reassurances, I spend the entire 20 minutes underwater clinging feebly to our instructor, while our seasick companion eventually upchucks into her ventilator. Nothough, of the giant manta rays for which Lady Elliot is famed, which is reason enough to jump back in the water just a few hours later — this time with snorkels.

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Basking near australia's continental shelf, marie barbieri loses herself among marine creatures of all colours and contours on lady elliot island.

Basking near Australia's continental shelf, Marie Barbieri loses herself among marine creatures of all colours and contours on Lady Elliot Island. I sharply inhale and halt dead still — or as still as one can hover atop a swaying reef. A majestic four-metre beauty arcs up and we clock eyes. This giant black and white kite tangos with the swell, its implausibly placed eyes holding the stare.

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We share a magical 10 minutes together, until he breaks off the affair. The glorious, paradisiacal island was actually built by poo guano, to be precisecourtesy of excreting seabirds that fertilised and seeded the isolated cay.

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Inhowever, it was almost stripped of its vegetative richness. Around 30 Asian miners arrived to pillage Lady Elliot for her guano. Settlers deforested the island, sparing just eight pisonia trees. They dug the topsoil and sold 20, tonnes of guano as gunpowder and fertilizer to Sydney and London.

Lady elliot island: the hidden side of the great barrier reef

Roll onwhen visionary pilot Don Adams arrived, bringing with him native shrubs and seeds for re-vegetation. Planting sheoaks to naturally fertilise the depleted soil, he regenerated the topsoil and reintroduced pisonia trees.

They flourished into the feather-flapping forest here today, reunited with the eight, now year-old, pisonia trees. Adams earned himself a conservation award for his work in Today, the Eco Resort upon the island looks to preserve the natural environment of the cay as well as the Great Barrier Reef.

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I spot the sexy sway of a blacktip reef shark as a green sea turtle periscopes for air before I almost brush scales with a school of big-eye trevally. All is calm as ecotourism guide Ben shows us yellow trumpetfish needling past striking Picasso triggerfish, where blue-spotted rays, blue linckia sea-stars and giant sea cucumbers crazy-pave the sandy bed. The larynxes of my group shriek when Ben points to a manta train whooshing by at breakneck speed.

The bucket list experiences of the southern great barrier reef

She purposely derails the carriages, and the male that best keeps up, gets to mate with her. Snorkelled and masked, we jump into the marine playground.

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I tally a count of eight juvenile sea turtles, vacuuming up drifting jellyfish the non-stinging variety. Between November and March, endangered green and loggerhead turtles return to Lady Elliot to lay around eggs per clutch. Around weeks later, post-sunset, hatchlings surface from the coral shingle and begin their inaugural clamber down to the ocean.

The conservationist has transformed lady elliot island — a forgotten former guano mine at the great barrier reef’s southern tip — into a sustainable and thriving eco resort.

Inthe island experienced an epic turtle-nesting season. Clad in reef shoes and armed with walking pole and SeaScope, Ben le us on a Lagoon Reef Walk, where polyps contract as we pass micro-atoll corals. We carefully step around a smorgasbord of sea cucumbers that bas-relief the sand, while embedded clams and an anemone-draped clownfish remain more covert.

We also meet black-striped scissortail sergeants, a parrotfish which can change sex and lagoon damselfish camouflaged by branching coral.

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An eastern reef egret stands nearby, waiting to ambush emerging crabs. This sea hare apparently spouts dark-blue ink if feeling threatened. Luckily, we remain inkless.

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A bashful epaulette shark slithers past a charcoal damselfish guarding its coral shelter. We protect our legs when Ben points out a sea urchin. Less nervous is the pair of sooty oystercatchers stickybeaking the shoreline.

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As the darkness thickens, stars turn to torches, and my island alone-time is transcendental. Dreams come true here.

Welcome to lady elliot island

Grinding along the coral-crumbled runway, I part from this shingly cay by a Seair Pacific Cessna Caravan plane. A few seconds into the flight, the island mimics a cricket oval: the runway is the wicket, the marine life the audience.

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Jackie, our pilot, performs a figure-of-eight manoeuvre above Lady Elliot Island, so all can snatch photos of her resplendent fringing reef. Getting there The best way to reach Lady Elliot Island from the UK is to fly to Brisbane via connections in Asia, then onto Bundaberg Airport where there are two daily departures to the island.

Silver for ecotourism

It generates solar power, desalinates seawater, irrigates with wastewater, composts food scraps and grinds glass bottles into sand, earning itself Advanced Eco Certification. Castaway on Lady Elliot Island, Australia. The 12 weird but wonderful wellness retreats. Seven days in Marrakech. My secret London. All rights reserved