If you’ve been looking for a very good reason to visit the Great Barrier Reef this year, look no further! 2018 is officially the International Year of the Coral Reef, which means it’d be rude not to celebrate with all the creatures who call a coral reef home. Am I right?! The Great Barrier Reef is the only place in the world where you can swim with Dwarf Minke Whales, float over colourful giant clams and look for six of the world’s seven species of turtle. Tropical North Queensland is the gateway to the stunning Great Barrier Reef and the perfect destination for an idyllic sun-drenched escape this year. To help you get inspired to visit, here are 13 of the very best ways to see the Great Barrier Reef and celebrate the International Year of the Coral Reef!
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1. Dive with sharks
Discover one of the best shark experiences in the world while diving with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. The live-aboard expedition takes you to spectacular, remote Coral Sea drop-offs that attract charismatic megafauna and plunge thousands of metres into the ocean.
2. Snorkel with Damselfish
Follow a Quicksilver marine biologist on a snorkelling tour of Agincourt Reef to discover Farmer Joe, a white Damselfish that picks up coral pieces placed on his patch and spits them outside the boundary to keep his farm clean.
3. Explore the Ribbon Reefs
Encounter a family of giant Potato Cod at the iconic Cod Hole on a Coral Sea adventure with Spirit of Freedom which includes the picturesque Ribbon Reefs. Extraordinary coral towers, Olive Sea Snakes and an endless array of colourful fish can be seen.
4. Swim with Dwarf Minke Whales
Swim with a Dwarf Minke Whale or cruise past a spy-hopping Humpback Whale when they migrate through the Great Barrier Reef in Winter, with Divers Den. The Ribbon Reefs are the only place where you are permitted to swim with the Dwarf Minke Whales.
5. Say hello to Nemo and co.
Tick off two or three of the bucket list Great Eight at the Frankland Islands where a variety of Clownfish swim through colourful anemones. Manta rays put on a show at their cleaning station and turtles nest on the islands during the breeding season. www.franklandislands.com.au
6. Get up close with Parrotfish
Listen to the Parrotfish chomp on coral with their parrot-like beak and discover how they start life as drab coloured females before some become colourful males. Down Under Cruise and Dive visits reefs where these sex-changing fish can be seen.
7. Snorkel Lizard Island
Join a scientist for access to rarely seen snorkelling sites at Lizard Island and learn first-hand about the challenges the Great Barrier Reef faces. There are just 12 spots on this expedition which includes a guided tour of the island’s research station. www.lizardisland.com.au
8. Make friends with a turtle
Watch a turtle being released it has been cared for by the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. The turtles swim free from Sunlover’s new Moore Reef pontoon, but you can slide in from the Great Barrier Reef’s first floating spaghetti jet waterslide.
9. Witness the annual coral spawn
Experience the regeneration of the Great Barrier Reef during the annual coral spawn after the full moon in November. Tusa Snorkel & Dive run seasonal night tours so you can dive or snorkel among tiny pink bubbles that will be tomorrow’s coral.
10. Become a snorkelling scientist
Sign up to be a citizen scientist for the day with Passions of Paradise. Join an accredited EcoGuide on a snorkelling tour to document the marine life you see for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority database.
11. See ancient, giant clams
Float above a garden of 80-year-old giant clams at Mackay Cay to see more colour than you will find in a rainbow. The trip on Sailaway IV departs from the sandy beach of Cape Tribulation in the Daintree rainforest.
12. Climb aboard a submarine
Go underwater without getting wet on a Big Cat Green Island Cruises air-conditioned semi-submarine to see juvenile fish using the seagrass around Green Island as protection from predators including turtles and dugong.
13. Visit a natural bird sanctuary
Terns, noddy birds and frigates are just some of the 20,000 seabirds that call Michaelmas Cay home. Ocean Spirit Cruises sails to this Great Barrier Reef bird sanctuary where you can swim with turtles straight off the beach.