With more than 2,900 individual reefs and shoals and over 900 continental and coral islands the Great Barrier Reef is the world's longest-spanning natural wonder.
With over 400 species of corals and soft corals the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's richest and most diverse environments and its welfare should be the concern of all Australians. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2,000km along the Queensland coast and covers an area of 349,000sqm. In recognition of its unique qualities the entire region was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage listing 1981.
Giant Manta Rays may be seen in many areas generally visit cleanerfish stations every day, bringing them into close association with the reefs.
(Photo: Neville Coleman)
The Great Barrier Reef is a sensitive ecosystem constantly affected by human activities and natural processes. Cyclones, crown-of-thorns sea star infestations, over-fishing, pollution, sewage, agricultural fertilisers, oil spills and boat anchors all have the potential to adversely affect the reef.
As people gain an appreciation of the beauty, complexity and vulnerability of the reef, they will understand the importance of establishing mechanisms which limit the effects of human activities and learn to enjoy the park in ways that conserve and protect it.
Far Northern section
The outer reef areas of the northern reefs can be extremely beautiful, with a wealth of pituresque marine life. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Far Northern section is one of the last pristine areas of the Great Barrier Reef.
Because there are hundreds of reefs that are inaccessible, the area is yet to be fully explored. Starting east of the tip of Cape York, the reefs in this section run to the northern end of the Ribbon Reefs, where most regular dive trips usually end.
Lizard Island Resort, is one of the most up-market, exclusive resorts on the reef. The resort shares the island with a marine research station which is run by the Australian Museum. Located 240km north of Cairns, Lizard Island is served regularly by a one-hour flight.
A host of incredible sea creatures abound on the the reefs, from sea squirts to beautiful red- bar basslets. (photo: Neville Coleman)
One of the most popular live-aboard trips on the Great Barrier Reef is the combination visit to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef. Many charter boats offer weekly trips which take in some of the most famous dive sites in the region such as the Cod Hole, Pixie Pinnacle, Dynamite Pass and the legendary North Horne at Osprey Reef.
Some spectacular wall dives are possible along the outer edges. The inner side of the Ribbon Reefs have lush coral gardens and many spectacular pinnacles swarming with fish.
Charter boats visiting this region generally depart from either Cairns or Port Douglas
and occasionally from Lizard Island, where passengers are flown in from Cairns.
Much of the Great Barrier Reef has been protected for many years, with some resort areas under complete protection for over 30 years. These locations provide divers with the opportunity to swim with creatures of the deep on equal terms. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Cairns and Port Douglas
The towns of Cairns and Port Douglas with a huge range of accommodations are popular tourist destinations attracting divers from all parts of the globe. The climate is tropical year round, and both towns offer a wealth of activities. Dozens of charter boats offer live-aboard and day trips and a large number of dive shops are located in the area.
Thousands of visitors are taken out daily on giant catamarans to pontoons to snorkel and dive the large offshore barrier reefs, as well as Green Island and the inshore cays.
Visitors will find a large and splendid selection of reefs to explore off Townsville. The inner reefs have extensive coral gardens and interesting drop-offs, while the outer reefs feature walls and pinnacles with a rich variety of coral and other marine life. The most exciting dive site in the Townsville area is the wreck of the "SS Yongala" which sank to the depths during a cyclone in 1911.
Townsville is the largest city in Northern Queensland and caters well for the tourist market. Day trips and extended live-aboard trips are available, but book early as there are only a limited number of spaces. Those after an island getaway can stay at Magnetic Island or Orpheus Island, both of which have resorts, dive operations and a number of inshore dive sites that are rich in marine life, but good visibility depends on the weather.
The Queensland Museum's Museum of Tropical Queensland has excellent educational displays and the Reef HQ Aquarium is world class with a large range of reef creatures to see.
During low tides, guides take eco-experience groups out to the outer reef rim pointing out the various species and sharing the experience of learning and the wide diversity of creatures. While reef walking is an excellent way of being introduced to the wildlife of the intertidal zone there are a few precautions which need to be understood. Always replace rocks or dead coral slabs as they were. This will ensure the sessile animals are not left exposed to die in the sun.
Walking upright across rubble banks through sandy pools rimmed with sharp coral and on slippery surfaces coated with microscopic algae requires some skill to avoid damage to persons or inhabitants. In order to give their patrons the best and safest reef walk adventure most eco-minded resorts provide a large box of protective footwear (sandshoes or gym boots) with lace up fronts and thick soles.
Thongs and sandals are not adequate protection from sharp coral, or the spines of sea urchins or venomous fish which may be hiding beneath the sand.
The reef poles are for balance only NOT for poking the creatures to see if they work. By paying attention to the guide it is amazing what can be learnt and what can be seen. This experience can then be built upon by groups or couples exploring on their own.
The Great Barrier Reef and around its islands are perfect places to learn to snorkel.
Shallow and protected with a wealth of wildlife a mere arm's length away the reefs and their creatures provide a never ending sense of amazement to all who share the experience.
With the Pacific Ocean providing such a wonderful opportunity, anybody can snorkel. It doesn't matter what body shape one has, with a shortie wetsuit, natural buoyancy or help from a vest or flotation assistance life jacket the lagoon and its wildlife can be everybody's enjoyment, from kids to retired kids.
However, like all adventure activities snorkelling is of greater pleasure if a few things are known beforehand. Always ensure that masks and fins fit properly. Always clean mask glass with soap, drip of detergent or ample spit to make sure it does not "fog up" and spoil the view.
Remember, if you need to stand up while snorkelling, head for a sandy area. Try not to stand up on the coral, especially in the deeper lagoonal areas as the corals are much more fragile and can be easily damaged.
Snorkelling on the surface means you are face to face with hundreds of easy-to-touch creatures.
Investigation is fine but always be very careful how you touch animals. Some can sting, spine, abrade or bite. Even small fish being hand fed have small teeth and can draw blood; the bigger the fish the bigger the teeth.
Most of the animals on the Great Barrier Reef are relatively tame ( like this Emperor Angelfish at Lady Elliot Island) Others such as the Queensland sea star are quite rare and only seen in remote areas.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Sea urchins are not good to touch as the spines are needle sharp and break off in careless fingers. Some sea cucumbers have sticky, noxious defensive organs which are shot out from their anus when they are handled, so don't harass them. Common sense should be applied at all times. If you are not sure, leave it alone and just look.
Scuba diving in Queensland is regulated by legislation which requires a high standard of safety control. All dives are logged and recorded, divers are asked to do a three-minute safety stop after each dive and all divers must have an octopus regulator, or secondary breathing system. There is currently only one recompression chamber in Queensland, located at the Townsville General Hospital.
Dive shops and charter boats operate out of all major ports along the coast. The majority of dive shops are very professional, hire well-maintained gear, offer a good range of retail equipment, and provide excellent servicing and repairs. Most dive sites are accessed by charter boat. Some are only five minutes from shore, others in the Coral Sea are over 20 hours away.
Most diving along the Queensland coast is offshore, due to the effect of onshore winds and swells on shallow sandy beaches and mangrove shorelines resulting in limited visibility and rough conditions.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in living taxonomy and marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Rock Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found on the Great Barrier Reef.
( Copyright Neville Coleman)
Great Barrier Reef Information
Sub-tropical in winter, tropical in summer with April through to August being the coolest months. During winter a pullover, or jacket is needed once the sun has gone down, as the night air can be a little chilly. The land temperature varies from 25-35°C in the north and 22-30° in the south.
Fluctuates between north 23-28°; south 18-26°C. It is a good idea to use wetsuits all the year round for protection and to conserve energy while scuba diving. When snorkeling for long periods It is best to wear protective clothing as stingers, sunburn and wind chill effect must be considered.
Whilst the south-east trade winds blow fairly constantly for most of the year, there are lulls during the winter and summer. Diving is possible all year around, with the exception of adverse weather conditions.
Dive shops and dive boats have sets of hire equipment, including tanks, weight belts, regulators, BCDs, fins, torches, masks, snorkels and some wetsuits. Reef diving is generally guided. Once you have shown the dive shop staff that you are a competent diver holding a current "C" card. Discover diving courses are available to vivitors and these are arranged through dive shops. Boat dives must be pre-booked. Each diver must complete a limited liability form giving the history of their diving ability plus their "C" card registration number. The "C" card must be sighted.
Proof of previous diving experience in the form of a current "C" card, PADI, SSI or equivalent to be presented to the dive shop staff.
Public telephone, accessible 24 hours, which operates on Phone-away cards.
240V power for recharging any equipment, 24 hours a day. There are power points in the rooms, although it is advisable to take your own double adaptor or flat pack.
Reef walks, island walks, beachcombing, bird
watching, photography, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, glass-bottom boat rides, camping permits are available on some islands. No spearfishing.
Great Barrier Reef Tourism:
See Queensland Tourism for details.
Night dives can be arranged at most venues.