No Barrier to the Reef

Sunlover recently had the pleasure of hosting two very special guests onboard our Moore Reef Daily experience 19-year-old Erin Condrin and her Assistance Dog, Lacey.  As a young person who is a wheelchair user, also with cold-induced anaphylaxis, Erin’s experience presented some unique challenges that our crew were more than happy to accommodate.

Erin’s journey to the Great Barrier Reef is one that began with a generous donor and was eventually made possible through the tireless commitment of community-based charity, the Young Australia League (YAL) in conjunction with Sunlover staff. With a history dating back over 100 years, YAL is an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of individuals, families and communities byembracing diversity and removing all forms of discrimination to support young people in Australia. According to YAL CEO Tammy-Rae Schaper, the organisation’s mission is simple, “We love nothing more than inspiring young people to reach their potential by providing mentorship and helping them overcome personal or financial hardship.”

As part of a flagship program by that has helped 31 students and delivered over $300,000 in funding over the last four years, Erin was the recipient of YAL’s inaugural Hilary Farrant Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. The scholarship that was kindly donated by Mrs Farrant’s widowed husband in her name, presented Erin with the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream while broadening her educational experience. “I have always wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef, so it was an amazing opportunity to tick it off my bucket list,” she says. “Getting to see the reef in more detail from the glass bottom boat and semi-submarine was awesome and wouldn’t have been possible without the staff’s willingness to help me navigate the stairs.”

Erin’s day trip to the Sunlover Moore Reef Marine Base included 4 hours of actual reef time with a host of included activities. Despite her inability to swim on the day, Erin was still able to experience the wonders of this underwater world complete with an abundance of colourful, healthy coral and fascinating marine life including “Wally” the resident Maori Wrasse.

“My favourite part of the experience was the glass bottom boat, where the guide educated us about different species of coral and other marine life,” Erin says. “The colours of the reef were spectacular!”

Although Erin admits that boats can be notoriously difficult for wheelchair users, she was pleasantly surprised to find Sunlover’s infrastructure and crew helped make the transition a fairly smooth one. “The staff went out of their way to accommodate me and make my trip special, and the ramps getting on and off the boat made it a lot easier,” she says. “The accessible bathroom on board was also a pleasant surprise.” While Erin says she was fortunate to experience the glass bottom boat and semi-submersible with the assistance of staff members, she also points out that even without the mobility to do those activities there was plenty to see from the pontoon, including the fish feeding and the touch tank.

“I would definitely recommend Sunlover to other people with disabilities looking to explore the Great Barrier Reef,” she says.

The YAL Scholarship Program is open to Australian citizens aged 12 – 25 who are engaged in education and currently facing personal or financial obstacles. To find out more about becoming a sponsor or recipient, visit their website.

Photos courtesy of Georgie Lockyer, YAL Creative Director.