Australia is home to not one, but two stunning coral reef systems – Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef. Coral reefs deliver ecosystem services for tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection. Barrier reefs are separated from a mainland or island shore by a deep channel or lagoon. A fringing reef also called a shore reef.
Scientists have only just begun to understand how reefs can contribute to medicine, already coral reef organisms are being used in treatments for diseases like cancer and HIV.
The zooxanthellae algae which live symbiotically inside the coral polyp give the corals their amazing colors.
In recent years scientists have discovered cold-water coral reefs off the coast of Norway and deep underwater in the Mediterranean Sea.
Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and hundreds of tropical islands with some of the world’s most beautiful golden beaches. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the only living thing on earth visible from space.
Activities at Great Barrier Reef:
- Explore the Daintree Rainforest – Daintree Rainforest located north of Cairns and Port Douglas provides visitors to the region with a chance to explore a unique tropical area.
- Hot Air Ballooning – experience the beauty of North Queensland by taking an exhilarating Hot Air Balloon trip over the Atherton Tablelands with spectacular views to the ocean.
- Island Day Trips – explore the reef and rainforest on Green Island Reef island, discover the uninhabited Frankland Island or visit any of the other islands.
- Low Isles Sailing Cruise – A variety of vessels are on offer including the Santa Maria, Coral Princess and Coral Sea Dreaming
- Great Barrier Reef Scenic Helicopter Flight – Enjoy amazing aerial views flying over the Daintree Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef and surrounding islands.
- Visit Whitehaven Beach – Located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach is one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches.
- White Water Rafting – Looking for something new and adventurous and see parts of this region that you might normally not be able to see – try white water rafting in tropical Queensland.
The problem with the Great Barrier Reef is that it could be pretty expensive if you’re traveling on a budget.
You must go on a boat tour to get out to the reef, which most people will only make it out one time during their trip. If the weather or water conditions aren’t great for going out then you are missing the time of your trip. The conditions often aren’t very good, for example for snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and less visibility.
But for people who want to explore coral reefs there is another, better option – the Ningaloo Reef.
Activities at Ningaloo Reef:
Photo credit: Michael Sale / Flickr
Ningaloo is home to the world’s largest fringing reef and it is located just a few feet away from the northwest coastal region of Western Australia. This makes the Ningaloo Reef Australia’s easiest access coral reef experience. It is famous for its whale sharks which feed there from March to June and the reef, which is also rich in coral and other marine life. During the winter months, the reef is part of the migratory routes for dolphins, dugongs, manta rays and humpback whales.
The World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef is one of the longest fringing coral reefs in the world with almost 300 kilometers of unspoiled underwater paradise.
In 1987, the Ningaloo Reef has declared a marine park in order to protect the unique environment and its inhabitants and in 2011, the Ningaloo Reef and Ningaloo Coast received UNESCO World Heritage listing. This Reef is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet with more than 250 species of coral and over 500 species of fish.
Ningaloo’s hub town of Exmouth is a 1250-kilometer (777-mile) drive north of Perth or you can fly to Learmonth Airport and then rent a car. Alternative you can use Integrity Coach Lines which also travels from Perth to Exmouth.
Rare sea turtle species such as the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles hatch here in late January and February.
You can swim with Whale Sharks, snorkel and dive the reefs, or just wander along the shoreline exploring the crystal clear waters for an appreciation and close up view of the aquatic world and nature at its premium.
Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, the diving and snorkeling sites of the Ningaloo are right along the coast and the Navy Pier, near the town of Exmouth, is considered one of the best shore dives in the world.
Activities at Ningaloo Reef:
There are many ways you can experience the Ningaloo Reef from above or below the waterline.
- Whale shark swim – Swim with the enormous whale sharks who arrive between March and July. These massive creatures are not harmful to people. They are the world’s largest fish with spans up to 40 feet long.
- Whale watching or humpback whale swim tours Between June and November, watch humpback whales or join them for a swim.
- Watch sea turtle – Between January and February, watch sea turtle species hatch on guided, eco-interactive trails.
- Scuba diving trips, snorkelling tours – Grab your snorkel and swim through coral lagoons and gardens in a calm and protected coral bay.
- Explore sand dunes and outback wilderness as well as the reef.
- Glass bottom boat cruises, underwater scooter tours, sail cruises.
- Eco & wildlife tours.
- Manta ray swim tours, sea kayaking tours.
- Scenic or microlight flights.
Coral reefs around the world are under increasing stress due to a combination of local and global factors.
Coral reefs are highly sensitive to environmental change. Multiple stressors, in isolation or in combination, may lead to dramatic deterioration that can result in loss of reefs.
Want to learn more about other sustainable destination? Check out section sustainable travel destinations.