The Great Barrier Reef, off the north east coast of Australia, is one of the seven wonders of the natural world - it is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, and declared a World Heritage area in 1981.
The Great Barrier Reef is scattered with beautiful islands and pristine coral quays and covers more than 300,000 square kilometres. The Great Barrier Reef consists of more than 3000 individual reefs which range in size from 1 hectare to over 10,000 hectares in area. There are more than 600 islands that also form part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Corals make up the various reefs and quays of the Great Barrier Reef. These are the basis for the immense diversity of sea and animal life on the Reef. Most reef building coral consists of colonies of individual coral polyps, tiny simple creatures which clone themselves into vast communities which are usually anchored to the sea floor. Each polyp produces a skeleton of calcium carbonate which forms the hard structure we recognise as coral. Together, these colonies create the underwater forests we refer to as coral reefs.
There is a huge variety and diversity of coral species; some grow very slowly and may live to be thousands of years old, others grow much more quickly and have lifespans that fit between the regular cyclones that occur on Australia's north east coast. The colours of coral are created by algae called zooxanthellae and by the protective chemistry that shields the coral from their algal partner's toxic by-products. Only live coral is brightly coloured, while dead coral is grey and stone-like in appearance.
A significant threat to the Great Barrier Reef is coral bleaching. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. It has been observed on reefs throughout the world. Scientists believe that coral bleaching can be attributed to significant rises in water temperature due to global warming and to the contamination of seawater by agricultural chemicals like fertiliser and pesticides. Bleaching is the result of coral polyps evicting their algal partners as they become overactive and therefore more toxic, overwhelming the protective chemistry mentioned above. The first evidence of this is the loss of colour in the coral tissue, revealing the white skeleton below. Death of the colony soon follows in severe cases. In recent years, entire reef sections have been destroyed by bleaching.
Another threat is often referred to as “the Other Carbon Problem” or “ocean acidification”. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by sea water where it forms carbonic acid. As the sea becomes more acidic, many organisms loose their ability to produce their calcium carbonate skeletons. The structurally weakened organisms are more brittle and prone to damage. Eventually, it is predicted, the erosive force of the ocean will outpace the constructive capacity of the reef leading to the ultimate demise of this enormously important system.
Wavelength is privileged to have one of the world’s greatest natural areas on earth under our care. The Great Barrier Reef is the greatest collection of coral reefs on earth. People come from all parts of the world to marvel at the beauty of the clear turquoise water, the islands, the birds, and the corals the fish and the other marine life of the Great Barrier Reef.
Our highly trained crew will teach the simple techniques of snorkeling, with special attention to the beginners and advice on advanced skills for the more experienced. Wavelength offers a self-paced tour with the opportunity for interaction with both marine life and a marine biologist on the guided snorkel tour.
Environmental Management Charge (EMC) -commonly referred to as Reef Tax
The rapid expansion of tourism, and other commercial operations, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the last decade has given a new urgency to research and education programs. Information is needed to guarantee the survival and conservation of the world’s largest Marine Park and World Heritage Area. Thus an Environmental Management Charge EMC (Environmental Management Charge) has been introduced by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to visitors of the Great Barrier Reef and industries operating within the World Heritage Area.
All funds raised by the EMC are used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) for research, education and Marine Park management.
The money is used by many different organisations, all with the aim of researching the physical, chemical and biological processes occurring within the Marine Park and combining this data to ensure proper management.
Currently the EMC is $3.50 per person and is the duty of all reef operators to collect either as part of the tour rate or separately onboard.
Visibility on the Reef
The average visibility in the northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef is 15 meters. Exceptional visibility of 20-25 meters can be experienced occasionally. Visibility depends on a number of factors including the currents, wind, swell and tides.
Outer Reef versus Inner Reef
As the Inner Reef is closer to the coast there is generally more sediment in the water which is caused by the run-off from mainland rivers and streams. These sediments decrease the visibility underwater and also limit the amount of sunlight that filters through the water. Coral needs sunlight in order to survive and grow. So the more sunlight that can penetrate the water the larger and faster corals will grow.
Although the Inner Reef has many beautiful corals mainly of the softer variety it can not compare to the Outer Reef, which due to its distance from the mainland has less suspended sediments so more sunlight can penetrate the water. This means the Outer Reef has a greater diversity and abundance of coral and fish life as compared to the Inner Reef.
The Outer Reef is simply spectacular.
Jellyfish or Stingers occur in all tropical waters and thanks to research efforts Great Barrier Reef operators have a lot of information on which to base their activities and to ensure the safety of their passengers. We know that from approximately October to May the most lethal species of box jellyfish lives in estuaries and costal waters along the Far North Queensland coast. Some jellyfish such as the Irukandji reproduce in the estuaries and can be washed out with the rains of wet season and while mostly found along the coast, they can be found at the outer reef.
There are species of jellyfish, including oceanic and offshore species of Irukandji, which if encountered can cause serious health issues and in extreme instances, fatality. These occur in all tropical snorkeling and diving locations throughout the world, including Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean, Thailand, Fiji and Indonesia especially during the warmer seasons. From October to May, we advise the wearing of full body coverage using lycra suits and/or wetsuits to minimise the already low possibility of jellyfish stings. Wavelength provides Lycra suits free of charge from October to May.
Larger sharks such as Tigers and Whalers which have been known to attack humans are rarely seen and are generally cautious of humans.
Coral Spawning: Coral Spawning is often called “Sex on the Reef” as this is the time that corals release their eggs and sperm at the same time. Some describe it as an upside-down snow storm is slow motion and it is an impressive sight. It usually happens 4 nights after the full moon in November. A lot of critters are active at this time as the coral spawn provide a smorgasbord feast for marine dwelling creatures.
July to September
Whales, the Great Migration: Each winter and spring you will see individuals or pods of Humpbacks and Minke Whales making their way through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. These majestic creatures spend their winters in tropical waters and may grow to more than 15 metres. We often have the pleasure of catching a glimpse as they dance amongst the waves. With their huge tail flukes they make an impressive display. Another friendly marine mammal is the bottlenose dolphin who we often see riding our bow waves.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is the principal adviser to the Commonwealth Government on the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is the main aim of GBRMPA to ensure the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. WAVELENGTH Reef Charters works within the Guidelines and permit regulations as set by GBRMPA to ensure the Great Barrier Reef can be seen and used by future generations. For more information on GBRMPA and the management of Tourism on the Reef please visit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website.
Always travel with an Advanced Eco Certified tour operator - you won't be sorry!