One of the globe’s top destinations for underwater explorers and scuba divers is the world’s largest barrier reef system, famously known as the Great Barrier Reef. Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia’s state of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef encompasses a huge area of more than 2,900 coral reefs and hundreds of islands and cays. Formed by millions of living organisms over a period of millions of years, the Reef is now one of the world’s most diverse and complex ecosystems.
While always known and used by the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australian peoples, the Reef today is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is home to a remarkable array of marine life including 1500 fish species, 360 corals and thousands of mollusks in addition to various species of whales, dolphins, marine turtles, sea snakes and birds, which breed among the small islands.
The best way to explore the Reef is by one of the numerous boat cruises that run along the northern coast of Queensland. The town of Cairns is regarded as the main gateway to the Reef, but other towns such as Townsville, Port Douglas, Yeppoon, Mission Beach and Cooktown also offer cruise operations. Ranging from single day trips to multiple day voyages, these boat cruises usually anchor at certain stops to allow for snorkeling and diving. Stops are also made at some of the islands for shopping. Additionally, many of these boat tours offer dining and nightlife activities. Other options for experiencing the Reef include underwater observatories, glass-bottomed boat tours and helicopter flights.