Stretching from Torres Strait to just north of Brisbane – about 1,500 km long, The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism in the world and the only one that can be seen from space. It is a frail ecology, made up of tiny marine polyps, which are very sensitive to changes in the environment, and which some scientists say could be extinct in a matter of a few decades, given the current rate of CO2 absorption into the sea through global pollution & climate changes.
A spectacular living wonder, which everyone should put on their must see list. ‘The reef’ as locals refer to, consists of the limestone structures manufactured by polyps and a multitude of fish and other marine life forms. Some 80% of the living organisms on ‘the reef’ are unique to this region and are not found anywhere else in the world.
Cooktown to Mission Beach, including Cairns & Port Douglas is where the reef is closest to mainland Australia, being only 30-50 km out, and countless tourist boats offer day and overnight trips from the various towns & beach communities along this strip. The main activity enjoyed is snorkelling, sunbaking on a deserted cay, birdwatching, or for the adventurous and at a little extra cost, diving. A cay is an area where the reef has grown above low water level, gathered detritus over the millennia to the stage that it now imitates a small geologically formed island.
Best way of seeing the reef is by ‘doing’ a dive – don’t worry if you’ve never done it before, diving guides are very highly trained and qualified, and the equipment is thoroughly tested and certified to the highest standards. They will give you a quick lesson before you go under and ensure you won’t panic and have sufficient proficiency for this very easy trip ahead. Once you have gotten over the initial reaction to having your head underwater and learnt to breathe through a tube into your mouth it is an effortless way to get really close to the marine world and see all the wonders it has to offer. Fully qualified rescue divers will be accompanying your guides to eliminate any possibility of anything not going to plan. Diving the Barrier Reef is comparable to some of the best diving in the world – and for beginners it won’t be too long before you forget that you “can’t dive” and find yourself being shepherded back to the group by anxious minders.
What about “nasties”? – Sharks – too well fed to be bothered with something that is not their natural prey (it’s regarded as lucky if you even spot one), Jelly Fish – your boat will supply you with a protective suit to keep these at bay if they are around, Crocodiles – too far out for them. So go ahead – have a great day ‘getting wet’. Oh water temps? Around 24 – 27 degrees Celsius – warm eh?