When you think of Australia the first thing that comes to mind is the Great Barrier Reef...at least that's how it was for us. The Great Barrier Reef had long been on our bucket list and when we had finally arrived to the beautiful Australia, we made sure visiting the world's largest coral reef would definitely be part of our journey.
The marine park stretches over 1800 miles along the Queensland Coast to the northern tip of Cape York and is the only living thing on earth that is actually visible from space. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef contains an abundance of marine life including over 1500 species of tropical fish.
There are many ways to explore the Great Barrier Reef including snorkeling, scuba diving, helicopter tours, and glass bottom boats! Having encountered terrible weather throughout a lot of our trip thanks to the cyclone, we booked our tour well in advance at a time we knew the storm would have been well on its way out of Cairns. We booked with Passions of Paradise for a full day tour of the Great Barrier Reef.
Sailing on a stylish and fast catamaran to two unique outer reef destinations
* All Snorkeling equipment including a complimentary guided snorkel tour
* Heaps of outdoor sun lounging decks including our signature netted deck at the bow of the boat
* A chef prepared tropical buffet lunch of hot and cold dishes including tropical fruit (allergies catered for on request)
* Morning and afternoon tea
* A marine life presentation with our Eco Tourism Australia certified guides
Because the Reef attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, the catamaran cruises can get quite crowded. The good thing is that if you were planning on diving the Great Barrier Reef but are not yet certified to do so, a Dive Master can to take you and a small group of other first-time divers down after a brief intro course. Brendan had received his advanced scuba certification four year prior in Mozambique when he was studying abroad, so luckily he was able to skip the course and head down with a few skilled divers.
We started the day around 7 and checking in for our dives around 9am. After helping ourselves to a large cup of coffee and some breakfast, we left the docks at 10am and went out to sea. We travelled for about 90 minutes before arriving to our first sight....it is in the middle of the ocean after all. At the first site you have the option to dive or snorkel. Everyone is given their own snorkel, however if you want to dive you will have to request to do so in advance. Each boat has a certain number of tanks and equipment they can have on board so diving can be costly, however if you decide to dive at the second site as well, then most companies will give you a discount.
The dive sites themselves were close together so we only had a short break in between which gave us enough time for lunch. The lunch buffet provided by the crew was superb, they have everything to offer and can cater to vegans, vegetarians, and anyone with dietary restrictions. The crew also provides morning and afternoon coffee and tea as well as a platter of fruit for dessert!
We had made a few friends on the catamaran and had fun soaking up the rays on the sun deck before going for our second dive at another reef. We got back to land around 5pm giving us enough time to shower, smother our sunburns with aloe, and head out to dinner!
What you can expect to see
Get ready to explore a whole new world under the surface of the ocean. We've been diving all over Mozambique, Fiji, Bali, and the Philippines and we have to say that we have never experienced such vivid colors as we had at the Great Barrier Reef. We went to two dive sights; the Milne Reef Site Club 10 and the Three Sister's Site. At the first sight we saw clown fish (aka NEMO), blue spotted rays, goat fish, parrot fish, angel fish, reef sharks and a Christmas tree worm! At the second sight we saw a juvenile Reef octopus, tomato fish, longfin spade fish, and a spotted sweet lip! As I am recalling the names of the fish we had seen, I am realizing how made up they all sound...but trust me, there is actually a fish called a Tomato Fish! That's the best part about keeping a diving log; you most likely won't remember a lot of the fish that you swam with months or years later, but a diving log will keep track of the amount of time you spent underwater, how deep you went, and all of the amazing sea life you encountered! The Reef is huge, so you can also expect to see sea turtles (there are six species of turtles living around the Reef) and plenty of reef sharks! Most of the sharks are in fact Reef sharks so don't worry, they won't bite!
Tips for Diving the Great Barrier Reef
1. Make sure you go with a company that has many dive permits so that they can choose the best reefs to go to.
2. Though Cairns is the most popular jumping off spot, leaving from Port Douglas, Townsville, or Cape York will get you to much less touristy parts of the reef that are better preserved.
3. Even if you don’t want to dive, most dive trips will let you join and snorkel the reef. Can't swim? No worries. They have life vests and floatation devices for you to hold on to!
4. If you don’t have a dive camera, aka a GoPro, most of the bigger boats have some for rent. Our boat even had a professional underwater photographer that took photos of everyone by the reef! You can purchase your photo from them at the end of your journey.
5. Consider a multi-day trip if you’re a seasoned diver. You’ll get much more time on the reef and be able to visit different areas.
6. Most people think they need to have a certification before they go on a trip to Australia. For me that meant doing an open water dive in the Hudson River in New York City....that just wasn't going to happen. The Great Barrier Reef is a fantastic place to receive your certification for an open water certified diver. There are so many programs that have a live aboard. Not only do you get to wake up every morning on the Reef, but you can say you received your certification seeing the World's Greatest Natural Wonder.
7. Don’t touch the coral. It’s a living organism and touching it can kill it. Don't touch animals either, they don't like it! Do your part to preserve the reef.
8. Make sure you have travel insurance and that it covers diving before you go. This is a serious matter, a lot of dangerous things can happen when you're underwater and you have no idea how expensive a decompression tank can be!
9. Make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen. Don’t get sunburned or dehydrated before you dive! Also it's a bit of a bummer, but don't drink either. You need to have your full wits about you down there and if you drank the night before, trust me..you'll feel the aftermath down there.
Going Beyond the Reef
Three years ago, the documentary 'Chasing Coral' came out and showed the world the rate at which the Great Barrier Reef was dying and the growing threat that pollution and climate change had on the sea life. Brendan and I had done a fair amount of research before going on this trip to make sure we were well informed about all of the safety precautions we would need to take in order to prevent further destruction to the Reef. Believe it or not, just the type of sunscreen you use can affect the reefs that you swim by! The widespread bleaching that is occurring on coral reefs around the world is the phenomenon where brightly colored corals turn a snowy white within a matter of weeks due to the increase in water temperature. Shortly after they die and what was once beautifully colored becomes an array of browns and grey.
Not only does decaying coral ruin the vast beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, but losing coral means losing an entire ecosystem! It is as important an issue as losing forests and trees. Fish lose their homes and a primary source of nourishment and thus humans lose a bar in the food pyramid. It’s no secret that climate change and human activity have great effects on the Great Barrier Reef’s health but rather than responding with apathy, immediate simple actions can help ensure the reef is around for generations to come. Here are a few things you can do to help:
1. VISIT GREAT BARRIER REEF
Simple enough right? You need to actually see the Great Barrier Reef and experience it's true beauty to fully appreciate it. The more the world values the GBR, the more the world will try and protect it. Conservation activists have implemented a mandatory Environmental Management Charge to every visitor to the Reef. This reef tax contributes to the day-to-day management of the marine park and improving its long term resilience.
Education is power. The more people learn about the problem, the more they can find ways to solve it. With learning comes appreciation and at Reef Teach, the marine biologists aim to educate and enhance the importance of the Great Barrier Reef. This Marine Education, Research and Conservation company has education and captivating evening shows that will leave you feeling inspired. They also allow you to snorkel or dive with a marine biologist to explore the reef in greater detail.
We had actually gone diving with marine biologists before and it made all the difference. Once in Fiji and when we went out to explore the Great Barrier Reef we were also educated afterwards by marine biologists. They will answer any questions you may have about the reef and the wild life that inhabits the area.
3. BE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS
Making small personal changes in your everyday life can drive a unified positive change for the Reef and the planet. Use the 3 R's regularly (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). We leaned them in kindergarten but the world still has yet to practice this determinedly. Avoiding straws or organizations all together that use plastic straws is a small but effective start. Plastic can actually make coral 20 times more susceptible to disease! Using recyclable garbage bags, a reusable water bottle, and avoiding plastic all together can increase your impact on your environment.
4. BECOME A SCIENTIST
Okay not really...but you can still do your part in helping the environment by keeping an eye on the Reef. The ocean is HUGE and constantly changing so it's nearly impossible for scientists and marine biologists to keep an eye on all of it all of the time! Anyone can contribute to this program with an app that allows you to share photos and information of what you've seen on the Reef. The program is run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and relies on the input of day trippers, tourists, fishers, rangers, and scientists to gather information on reef health, marine animals and long term protection.
There are so many companies that are dedicated to saving the environment including the Great Barrier Reef. The Tangaroa Blue Foundations works to remove and prevent marine debris under the Australian Marine Debris Initiative. The on-ground network of volunteers, communities and organizations contribute data from garbage collected during beach and river clean up events which work to provide solutions to stop the flow of litter at the source.
With knowledge on how to help the reef and the best ways to explore it, you will easily have the best time exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Composed of over 3000 separate reefs, each with their own ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef has a ton of diversity including 10% of the world's total fish species . Snorkeling and diving the Great Barrier Reef is one of those iconic once in a lifetime opportunities that you won't want to miss!