The Great Barrier Reef is the jewel in Queensland’s tiara. It’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world, a beautiful living thing stretching 3000km along the Queensland coast. When visiting Queensland, experiencing the Great Barrier Reef should be at the top of your bucket list. It’s home to whales, dugongs, dolphins and many different kinds of sharks, including leopard, back tip reef sharks and spotted wobbegong sharks. Here are some Great Barrier Reef facts.
1-Green sea turtles
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) belong to the Cheloniidae family and have a dorso-ventrally flattened body, a beaked head, short neck and paddle-like arms.
Adult green turtles can grow up to one-and-a-half meters long and can weigh up to 315kg (the largest turtle recorded weighed 395kg!) but an average mature turtle weighs around 200 kilograms.
Manta rays are found in the shallow waters around the islands and reefs. They have a wingspan of up to seven metres and are believed to be sexually active from about five years of age. They mate in summer in depths of 1 to 10m when water temperatures are 26-29°C.
Humpback whales the biggest sea creatures in Queensland’s waters. They grow to more than 15m long and weigh between 27 and 45 tonnes. They migrate from the Antarctic to the Great Barrier Reef to breed. The migrations can be up to 6000km travelling at speeds between 5-14kph.
Humpback whales travel in pods and an adult male will often escort a pod of returning mothers and calves. The migration to the north begins around June and the return trip starts around September.
Dugongs are large grey mammals that, when fully grown, can be three metres long and weigh 400kg. Dugongs use their flippers and broad tail to swim by moving in an up and down motion.
Top underwater spots to go diving and snorkelling in Queensland.
1-The Ribbon Reefs
Tropical North Queensland’s Ribbon Reefs extends along the edge of the continental shelf in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. From Cooktown to eastern Torres Strait, the reef is colourful and the water is clear. The ecosystem is full sharks and other species that rely on plankton.
2. Yongala Wreck
The S.S. Yongala sank in 1911 and is one of Australia’s intriguing maritime mysteries. The shipwreck lies beneath the ocean 30 minutes from Townsville and is a magnet for marine life. Divers are likely to encounter giant gropers, giant trevally and sea snakes.
3. Ex-HMAS Brisbane Conservation Park
Nine kilometres offshore from Mooloolaba, the Ex-HMAS Brisbane was a warship that is now in 28m of water. The conservation park is growing into a complex ecosystem. The dive site is a blend of tropical and sub-tropical species. Think of it as an island in an ocean of sand plonked in the marine equivalent of the Sahara.
4. Lady Elliot Island
An isolated coral cay at the southern extreme of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island is a magnet for marine life, particularly turtles. The turtles are so friendly they often seek out tourists to have their backs scratched. It’s also the place to see manta rays. The Tubes descend over a ledge of soft and hard coral to the base of the wall, which has two one-metre wide swim throughs.
Bundaberg is famous for turtles at Mon Repos Beach. There are boat charters that take divers to dive sites from Bundaberg, including the Karma shipwreck, a 47m prawn trawler sitting in 30m of water. From November to January, loggerhead, flatback and green sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Hatchlings emerge from January to March and make their way back to sea.
Shore diving is available off Bargara Beach, Hoffman’s Rocks and Barolin Rocks, where there are soft coral gardens. The Severance Wreck, a sunken two-masted sailing boat, is a few minutes off shore.
6-Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave Island has the largest navigable lagoon on the Great Barrier Reef. The protected lagoon is a good spot for beginners and the uninhabited island has a National Park camping ground.
A mecca for divers, Heron Island has more than 20 dive sites and superb snorkelling straight off the beach. Heron Bommie is one of the most photographed sites in the country and is listed as one of Jacques Cousteau’s top ten favourites.
The Cod Hole near Lizard Island is a bucket list diving experience where divers can be amongst schools of 150kg kilo potato cod.
Four volcanic pinnacles rise 36m within the Great Sandy Marine Park off shore from Rainbow Beach. These waters are a mating area for critically endangered grey nurse shark. You’ll also spot mantas and whales as well as giant trevally, mackerel, schools of barracuda and other pelagic species.
10-North Stradbroke Island
North Stradbroke Island offers good surfing as well as diving. Shag Rock and Flat Rock are well known for leopard sharks and grey nurse sharks while Manta Bommie offers exhilarating manta ray encounters (November to February). Manta Ray Bommie is part of a rocky reef community next to a sandy channel used by sharks, rays and other sea life. The channel is used by marine life to enter and leave Moreton Bay, gateway to the river port of Brisbane.
For more ideas on what to see and do in Queensland go to Best of Queensland.
If you you want to check out the Great Barrier Reef without getting your hair wet watch Finding Dory:
A good way of understanding a region is through its volunteer organisations. Check out this one.