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THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

Welcome to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park!

Welcome to an amazing UNDERWATER world, thousands of years old!
The Great Barrier Reef has World Heritage Status, and is one of the true wonders of the natural world.
It is the world’s most significant reef structure in the world, with the reefs off the Belize coast in Central America being second, and Nigaloo Reef in Western Australia the third.

The Great Barrier Reef is 2300 kilometres long and varies from 60 km to 250 km in width. It stretches from near the tip of Cape York in the north of Queensland to just north of the city of Bundaberg in the south. The reef itself forms a barrier (hence the name) between the deep water outer ocean, which can be around 2000 metres deep, and the inner Coral Sea which is quite shallow and can be less than a metre in depth or up to around 35 metres.

Almost all of The Great Barrier Reef is a part of The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and there are around 3000 coral reefs and 600 islands inside the park, a mix of islands with resorts, uninhabited islands, coral cays, and mangrove islands.

What makes the Great Barrier Reef so amazing is its size, but more importantly the sheer diversity of life that is supported inside the reef. It’s a whole new world full of vibrant colour, movement and activity, with more than 1500 types of fish of all colours, shapes and sizes, thousands of molluscs, jelly fish, reef sharks, sting rays, dolphins, turtles and whales, and of course multi coloured corals, seaweeds, sea grasses, sea urchins, octopus, star fish and other marine life creating this underwater world.

By diving, snorkelling or just looking down into the water, direct or with the help of a glass bottomed boat – you will see into this world.

Corals are tiny living invertebrate animals (Polyps) just one to three millimetres in size, which can be either a hard coral or soft coral. Millions of them join together to form a reef – creating what looks like an underwater forest or garden made up largely of their bodies, creating delicate calcium carbonate structures – with colourful branches pointing upwards, some with their tentacles moving softly with the current, back and forward as if carried by the wind, and others looking like a hard dimpled bleached shell above rocky outcrops and the sandy floor of the ocean.

The Corals form in many different ways – and may have a domed or round shape, have a thick trunk like shape, branches like a tree, leaf shapes, shapes like a cabbage, a fan, a mushroom and other shapes, but certainly the most picturesque shape is the one with colourful branches facing upwards.

In this world swim the small fish and other animals that duck in and out of the corals, rocks and crevices, moving with the current, feeding on algae and darting to and fro as they move around the reef coral, keeping a watchful eye out for bigger predators that might snatch them.

There are thousands of fish, and their names also tell a story!

Orange and white striped Clown Fish (like the movie character Nemo); Parrot Fish with tiny parrot beak like mouths; deep royal blue and orange Angel Fish; brilliant yellow Butterfly Fish; electric blue Damsel Fish; blue and orange Surgeon Fish and schools of others with different shapes and colours make this a world of colour. The brilliance of their colours, the way they move and the sheer number of fish make the reef into a magical world. Check out a chart showing the different fish on your tour boat or at one of the tourist shops.

Entering this world and seeing it is a privilege – and if you are lucky you may even see a giant grouper, reef shark, ray, octopus, moray eel, turtles or even a dolphin swim by.

This world of colour is also under threat too from Starfish, climate changes and manmade activities that bring chemicals and possible spillages from shipping that could affect the delicate balances that ensure the reef’s survival. As a visitor, you will hear lots about this from Tour Guides and locals who are rightly passionate about protecting the Reef.

There are many ways to see the Reef – with Cruise Companies set up in both Cairns and Port Douglas with a range of tour options and boats depending on how much you are prepared to spend, your time and what you want to do. You can also charter boats, sail, windsurf or fly out to the Reef by helicopter or seaplane, head to an island on the Reef, take a diving course or go with a diving boat with a group of divers. There are also artificial reefs or platform pontoons located on the reef where some of the cruise boats anchor.

You should also be aware that there is an inner reef and the outer reef – which can be up to an hour and a half away from the mainland, so if you are time limited or don’t want to stay on a boat too long, book a trip that is shorter.

The easiest way to see the Reef is simply to look into the water from a glass bottomed boat, which gives you better view than just watching from above the water. The better way means getting wet, and using a mask and snorkel (and ideally fins on your feet) and floating on the surface of the water looking downwards. There is also what is called Helmet diving, where you use a special helmet that looks like a glass bubble that fits over your head, with air supplied via an air hose. This gives you perfect vision, without the need for a mouth piece, wetsuit and air tanks to carry – as in traditional scuba diving equipment, and of course there are scuba diving options too, and even a semi- submersible submarine adventure tour.

Tours take you to different parts and locations on the Reef, so that you gain an impression of the whole Reef and in most cases on tours there is a commentary and lunch, snacks and dinner options. Depending on the time of year tours can be booked out early, so it is best to check out all the options, and then book the tour that best suits you. Some of the Tour boats are large and therefore have lots of people on them, while others can be more intimate and designed more for individuals or small groups than large groups of people.

BARRIER REEF ISLANDS –

There are a number of islands close to Cairns and Port Douglas, the best known and accessible island being Green Island – which you can get to via a 45 minute boat ride or faster by helicopter. Green Island is a coral cay island and appears like a green rainforest oasis circled by white sandy beaches. It is possible to stay on Green Island at the resort (www.greenislandresort.com.au ), shop, hire snorkelling and scuba diving equipment, visit the underwater observatory and marineland, eat at one of the restaurants, just wander along the beach front, lie on the beach or take your time snorkelling or diving off the beach. You can also walk right around the island on a walking track, and see lots of birds in and around the coastline and on one of the rainforest walks.

From the resort, it is also possible to go windsurfing, hire a canoe, paddle board or surf ski and take tours from the resort too, or just relax having a spa treatment.

Remember that walking on coral can damage it, and it is best to cover feet to avoid getting feet cut from sharp pieces of coral too. Also keep in mind that it is very easy to get sunburned too, particularly when snorkelling when your back is facing directly into the sun, while you look at the fish below you. If you are snorkelling off a boat – keep in mind where the boat is, and how far you are drifting away from it, particularly with currents if they are present.

Double Island is a somewhat exclusive island that is used a lot for big wedding parties, where the whole island and its facilities are hired, but it is also possible to have a family, couples or groups of friends to stay here too. The island is about 10 minutes away from Palm Cove Village on the mainland, and there is a 25 metre long pool, outdoor spa, games room, gym and other facilities at the Resort – now called Kewara Beach Resort (see www.doubleisland.com.au Tel: (07) 4058 4000).

Haycock Island – is located close to Double Island, with a shape like a Scout’s hat – with steep sides and rainforest trees coming down close to the edge of the island. There are some deeper channels next to the island, which are good for fishing. It is not possible to stay on the island. Yachts often anchor off the island, and paddle boarders paddle from Double Island around the island too.

Frankland Islands – These are an uninhabited group of five islands (High, Normanby, Mabel, Russell and Round Islands) which are surrounded by reefs and it is possible to take a day trip to the islands to walk on the beaches, through the rainforest in parts, snorkel or dive to see a variety of fish, green sea turtles and other wildlife.

Fitzroy Island – is located about a 45 minute Fast Cat boat ride (28 Km) from the mainland. It is a National Park and also home to a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre where injured turtles are nursed back to health. The island has beautiful beaches surrounded by coconut trees as well as rainforest walks and tracks. It is possible to stay at the resort on the island (See www.fitzroyisland.com) and natural springs and easy access to go kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkelling and diving makes this island a great holiday destination. It is also about half way to the outer reef is another 45 minutes boat ride away.

Being able to just walk along the beach, swim and snorkel at your own pace, makes a day trip or overnight stay one of the highlights of a trip to the Barrier Reef.

THE GREAT BARRIER REEF – attracts thousands of visitors to see it every year from around the world – and while many parts of it have become very commercialized – there is no denying the sheer beauty of the underwater world that you enter when you snorkel or dive. The colours, the constant activity of the small colourful fish darting in and out of the reef, and the amazing sight of a turtle or other bigger school of fish or even a shark or ray become memories that last a lifetime.
We hope you enjoy your time on the Great Barrier Reef and islands.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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