Scuba Diving on the Great Barrier Reef
It is a popular destination for scuba divers and most of the diving is in the Whitsundays and Cairns islands because they are easily accessible to the best diving spots. They make up seven per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and have their own Plans of Management. The Government of Queensland and the Australian government work together to make sure the Great Barrier Reef is used in a sustainable manner through management plans, zoning, education and eco-tourism certification in an effort to conserve the reef. The first instruction for visitors is not to litter or collect coral.
Most diving on the reef is done through live-aboard cruises. These cruises take divers far from the mainland to places that are not frequently seen. Since the reef acts as a barrier between the mainland and the sea, the waters between are very calm and make for smooth cruising. These cruises offer the best possible scuba diving in Australia.
Types of Reefs
Coral needs large areas of warm water, sunlight and low nutrients to grow, and Australia’s north eastern coast has a continental shelf of only 20 to 30 metres deep and plenty of sunlight. The water is super clear with visibility of about 15 metres underwater. There are over 1500 varieties of fish on the reef and they all work together to maintain the ecosystem. To enjoy watching the fish, divers should move slowly and be relaxed. The fish will basically ignore the diver and get on with their business.
Coral and jellyfish are in the same family, but corals make solid skeletons of limestone which they pull themselves into during the day. Divers must understand that corals are living animals and very sensitive. The three types of coral reefs are:
- Platform reefs have a flat top with very small, shallow lagoons.
- Ribbon or barrier reefs are only on the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. They extend 670 kilometres from Cooktown to eastern Torres Strait. Ribbon reefs form along the edge of the continental shelf, and in the places where it is suitable, the coral grows high, narrow walls.
- Fringing reefs are young reefs that grow in shallow water along the coasts of tropical islands. They grow up to sea level and outwards towards the open ocean. They are usually narrow platforms near shore with no substantial lagoon.
The Diving Experience
Live-aboard expeditions are very comfortable with roomy cabins and good food. They are safe in all weather conditions and offer great fun for novice divers as well as experts looking for some adventure with sharks and big fish. Experienced divers can make their own diving plans, and novice divers are given complimentary dives to help them become orientated underwater.
There are also Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) scuba diving schools that promise excellent diving education as well as live-aboard adventures throughout Australia. They operate from Cairns or Port Douglas and take divers to Cod Hole, the Coral Sea, the Outer Great Barrier Reef and to several wrecks including the world famous Yongala wreak.
There is even introductory scuba diving for beginners with no lessons necessary. Instructors take novice divers underwater to safe depths to experience the amazing wonders of the reef. Watch octopus glide through the crevices of coral, swim alongside sea turtles and get close to the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef on the first attempt.
For those who have completed an introductory scuba dive, night diving is a possibility. With expert guides, night diving is a whole new experience. Many marine animals are nocturnal and the underwater world is completely different at night. Excellent lights are a must as is staying close to the guide. The colours of the plants and animals that sometimes look black during the day are all of a sudden brilliant purple or scarlet. They seem brighter when seen with the artificial light.
What to Take to the Reef
Diving gear is the most obvious thing needed for scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. For those who prefer their own gear, they can bring it, but all the gear needed will be provided by the operator of choice.
Visitors should bring:
-Quick drying clothing
-Sandals or shoes that can get wet
-Money and camera
-Motion sickness medication if required
For those who plan to be out on the water for more than one day, a transformer to charge any electronic equipment they bring is a good idea. The boats have 220V current, so either a transformer or an Australian plug adapter is required.
For visitors not ready to dive but who are interested in snorkelling, all equipment will be provided. A lightweight wetsuit will also be provided and is recommended between the months of June and September. Also, for a one day break from the sea, Queensland is the Australian theme park capital with Movie World, Dreamworld, Sea World, Wet ‘n’ Wild and WhiteWater World. There are also several wildlife sanctuaries and the Australian Zoo where visitors see the fantastic animals of Australia.
The Great Barrier Reef has some of the best scuba diving places in the world for both beginners as well as experts. The abundance of marine life offers truly a wonderland of sites and there are several ways to reach it. Luxury cruises, sail boats and live-aboard are just a few of the possibilities, and there is something to fit every budget. Singles, couples and families can find suitable accommodation close to this spectacular natural wonder of the world.