Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic

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A marine scientist admires a garden of stony corals.

Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic

Great Barrier Reef: Through the Lens of David Doubilet

Reef may be added to list of endangered World Heritage sites.

Underwater photographer David Doubilet made his first trip to Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 1979. Since then, he's returned 11 times to the 1,400-mile-long (2,254-kilometer-long) kingdom of coral off the Queensland coast.

In light of news that the United Nations may add the reef to the list of endangered World Heritage sites, editor at large Cathy Newman spoke to Doubilet about his encounters with the reef and its uncertain future.

You've made 12 trips to the Great Barrier Reef over the past three decades. What do you remember about your first trip?

I had my first encounter with a sea snake. A big olive-green one came up and got between my buoyancy compensator vest and neck and looked me in the face. They are very poisonous. In Australia everything is out to get you. I held my breath, very carefully loosened the vest, and the snake slithered out.

Let's try for another experience of a less terrifying nature.

Raine Island, which is off the Cape York Peninsula, is the jewel of the reef. Every other year it hosts 80,000 green turtles that come to mate and crawl on the island and lay eggs. I went with a scientist who had a permit to work there and swam with hundreds of turtles that moved like underwater clouds. They seemed to appear and disappear because they blend in perfectly with the surrounding reef. Such numbers in one small place makes them very vulnerable. Ten thousand plus turtles would pull themselves ashore at night. It was the Times Square of green sea turtles. As dawn broke, the last females were pulling themselves toward the sea. The island was covered in tracks that looked like a massive amphibious landing. I have never seen anything like it.