I had recently read an article with the headline "Great Barrier Reef pronounced dead in 2016" and was pretty shocked, as I had an upcoming trip to Australia booked for December 2016. Before reading my article below, I can confirm The Great Barrier Reef is alive.
So for those unaware, The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on earth. An ecosystem spanning 2,300km and consisting of around 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is one of the most popular tourist attractions while visiting Australia.
It was Christmas Day, I was staying in Cairns, and my Great Barrier Reef trip was on the agenda. All of the boats tend to depart the esplanade around 8am, so it's an early start, as there's a full registration process pre-boarding.
If the Great Barrier Reef is on your radar, here's a few common questions...
Which company should I book with?
As with any top excursions around the world, there's always plenty of companies available to book with, and you can often end up even more confused. Being a geek, I do tend to spend hours online with all of my research, and my final decision was Passions of Paradise. Online reviews are a useful research tool, but I always tend to go one step further where possible, and ask fellow travellers directly. The name Passions of Paradise kept coming up time and time again. In a nutshell, they were awesome and go above and beyond from start to finish.
Boats depart around 8am and you arrive back at the harbour between 4-5pm, so the excursion is a full day trip. You'll be taken to the Outer Reef and Michaelmas Cay, which will be the dive and snorkel spot for the day.
Dive or snorkel?
Both are possible, regardless of whether have a PADI licence or not. There's pros and cons of each and there will always be people either side of the fence with their own opinion. I was undecided, so ended up doing both. Please note that if you've booked the snorkelling trip, you will have to pay an additional $70 AUD to do a dive.
What should I pack?
There's nothing out of the ordinary to pack really, as all of the necessary equipment for the snorkel/dive are provided. Just pack the usuals... sun cream, hat, sunglasses, water, camera, GoPro, money, towel, headphones, and an adventurous personality.
How much does it cost?
The full day trip costs 170 AUD, which includes the snorkelling, food, and a full day on the boat. Additional costs to allow for are sting suit rental (10 AUD), and the cost of an intro dive if you choose to. There are a limited number of underwater cameras available for hire if needed. The day trip is absolutely worth every dollar!
What marine life will I see?
Obviously we're talking about nature, not a zoo. However, you're likely to see colourful coral, a wide range of fish, including nemo, turtles, stingray, and even some baby sharks.
With snorkelling, you're able to get a great overview of life below happening, which can offer great photo opportunities. With diving, you're so much closer to the action and can see magical moments up close. The highlight for me was seeing a turtle eat a jellyfish.
The Great Barrier Reef is a year round natural beauty to explore, although some seasons are better than others. Peak season tends to be June to November, as the weather is mild and visibility is good. The season to avoid is January to March, as this is the wet season, and visibility is often reduced.
What's destroying The Great Barrier Reef?
I was very interested to gain an understanding of what is destroying the GBR, so I had a long conversation with Simon, an employee of Passions of Paradise. Simon has been a dive master for many years and has a deep love for the reef. When the day trips are coming to an end, Simon runs interactive knowledge sessions for the tourists on board, so it's the perfect opportunity to ask any burning questions.
There are many factors leading to the beauty of the reef deteriorating over time, and unfortunately humans are one of them. Millions of tourists travel the globe every year to explore the natural wonders on offer, but often this harms the wonder itself. With the Great Barrier Reef, corals are constantly being stamped on by the feet of tourists. This isn't necessarily on purpose, but for one reason or another, it happens. Keep off the coral and save the reef!
Humans can help to preserve the reef, but there's always factors that can't be helped. Simon mentioned that a huge cyclone tore through an area of the reef in 2015. This is nature, and of course, can't be avoided. The largest factor destroying the reef is referred to as 'Coral Bleaching' and happens due to warmer temperatures. Basically, when water is too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.
Should I visit?
Absolutely! For me, no Australia trip is complete without a visit to the Great Barrier Reef.