The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most remarkable natural gifts of the Earth. It’s the world's largest coral reef, stretching for over 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) off the coast of Queensland, Australia. This massive reef is comprised of over 3,000 individual reefs and coral cays, and about 900 tropical islands. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and scuba diving is one of the main outdoors activities that take place here.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the world’s best marine flora and fauna. It’s also a great place to learn to scuba dive. There are a variety of dive sites along the reef – some are calm and protected, suitable for beginners, while others deeper sites with swim-throughs and caves where experienced divers can discover all sorts of fish life.
Backdrop of corals at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Photo by Wise Hok Wai Lum
The diving conditions the Great Barrier Reef are typically good year-round, but the best time to visit is generally June through October. Coral spawning usually occurs in October and November, although it is hard to predict the exact time. Those who wish to see minke whales have high chances of spotting them May through August while November is the best month for seeing humpback whales.
Water temperatures at the Great Barrier Reef range from 24° C/75° F in the winter to 30° C/86° F in the summer.
There’s usually a mild current close to the shore but it can get strong in areas such as the Ribbon and Osprey Reefs.
The visibility ranges from 5 to 25 meters (16-82 feet) year-round. To experience the best visibility, come during summer when it often exceeds 50 meters (164 feet).
The Ribbon Reefs are thin strips of reef off the northern Queensland shore. They are covered in colorful corals, separated by sandy gullies. There’s great diversity when it comes to the marine life; from critters to turtles, schooling fish, and large animals such as whales, there’s something for everyone here. The dive sites along the reefs have great visibility and mostly calm sea conditions. It’s a good region for both novice and experienced divers. But keep in mind that the Ribbon Reefs area is only accessible by liveaboards.
Heron Island, a great place to spot sea turtles. Photo by Jon Connell
This coral cay is located in the southern Great Barrier Reef near the Tropic of Capricorn. Heron Island features over 20 excellent dive sites and it’s mostly renowned for the notable turtle population that nests here. The island is home to about 4,000 green and loggerhead turtles.
The dive sites feature grottos, canyons, peaks, points, cascades, lairs, holes, pools, gullies, and gardens. The signature dive here is Heron Bommie, a haven for marine life where divers can admire wobbegong and white-tip reef sharks, groupers, stingrays, snappers, emperors, trevallies, barracudas, batfish, emperors, and plenty of other species of fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Osprey Reef is a submerged atoll that’s famous for its reef shark sightings. Its underwater amphitheater is a great place to spot white-tip, silver-tip, and grey reef sharks. Another incredible creature that you can spot here is the ancient chambered nautilus which has remained almost unchanged for about 500 million years. The reef is vast and features vertical walls, drop-offs, and swim-throughs. To top it all off, the visibility is between 30 to 60 meters (98 to 197 feet).
Escape Reef is a barrier reef with two sides: a lagoon facing one and an ocean-facing one. It’s among the most pristine reefs in the area, with healthy coral presenting minimal signs of bleaching. There’s a variety of hard corals, branching corals, boulder corals, just to name a few. You can also see coral towers and small coral valleys that create spectacular underwater scenery. As for marine life, stingrays, goatfish, surgeonfish, wrasses, and hawksbill turtles are just some of the animals inhabiting these waters.