Tropical North Queensland IS the Great Barrier Reef

Spectacular Lady Elliot Island, Cairns QLD

When travellers visualise themselves on the Great Barrier Reef - they think of Tropical North Queensland. While the reef is large in area the region boasts the only major international airport along the reef - giving the best access to this natural wonder in Queensland. There are 2900 individual reefs in an area of 348,000 square km I 216,241 square miles - larger than the total area of the United Kingdom, or larger than the state of Victoria in southern Australia, or about half the size of Texas in the USA.

The majestic coral structures extend over 2300km /1430 miles, from the tip of Cape York Peninsula to the central Queensland coast (Approximately the same distance from London to Athens). But for most visitors, the Tropical North is where their reef experience begins. Australia's first floating post office mailbox service was established by Quicksilver Connections on the Great Barrier Reef, at Agincourt Reef - 72km offshore from Port Douglas.Visitors from around the world delight at sending a letter or postcard and the recipient finding a special post mark from the floating reef platform. Queensland's first underwater eco-trail is on Agincourt reef off Port Douglas. Specially fitted plaques of marine grade non-corrosive aluminium give divers information about fish, coral and how to look after the reef. All signs have been approved by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the reef uses and impacts.

Scub Diving the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is known as the only natural structure visible from Outer Space. Astronauts have reported that while they can also see the man-made Great Wall of China, it is the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef that really catches their eye. The reef stretches 2,300km from the northern most tip of Australia to Bundaberg in southern Queensland covering an amazing 348,700 square kilometres.

The Cairns International Airport is serviced by 8 international airlines and multiple daily services to other parts of Australia - meaning you could be at home in the morning and booking your trip to the reef that afternoon!

In Tropical North Queensland, visitors experience the reef in a number of ways. The most popular is by fast catamaran - when passengers are taken to their reef destination in air-conditioned comfort on high technology crafts designed to protect the environment. For others, experiencing the wind in their face on board a sailing ship is the preferred option. There are also extended cruises to islands and reefs along the coast, helicopters or scenic plane flights - from several ports on the Tropical North Queensland coast. The Great Barrier Reef provides superb recreational activities such as snorkelling, diving, swimming and fishing, or cruising, and offers a superb environment for scientific research.

A Reef Full of Fish

Average water temperatures on the reef range from about 22 degrees C (74 degrees F) in July to around 27 degrees C (84 degrees F) in January. The warm coral waters make it ideal for diving, and each year 1.4 million scuba dives are made by visitors in its aqua waters. The reef is a major tourist destination and the advent of high-speed large capacity catamarans now provide visitors with access to new areas of reef. However, the tourism industry, in conjunction with management bodies is working co-operatively to ensure the preservation of the natural assets.

For many travellers planning to discover and explore the reef, while they will be familiar with the name, the Great Barrier Reef is still a mystery. So valuable is the Reef, that it was established as a national marine park by the Australian Government in 1975 and is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which regulates visitation levels through permits. In recognition of its global value, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List on October 26 1981. Countries which sign the World Heritage Convention are required to undertake policies to preserve, conserve and present the assets.

The Great Barrier Reef is now the largest World Heritage-listed area in existence. It is also the largest structure made completely by living organisms, and is the only naturally-made structure visible by astronauts in outer space.The Great Barrier Reef is by far the largest single collection of coral reefs in the world. Biologically the Great Barrier Reef supports the most diverse ecosystem known to man. Its enormous diversity is thought to reflect the maturity of an ecosystem which has evolved over millions of years on the northeast continental shelf of Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef is a collection of coral formations. Coral is formed by the marine polyp - an organism closely related to jellyfish. The polyp forms a hard surface by producing lime. As polyps die their coral skeletons remain, which gradually forms the reef. The reef has been developing in this way for over 10,000 years. The present reef began growing above the remains of much older reefs when sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age.

Coral will only develop in water that is clear and salty, above 17.5 degrees C (65 degrees F) and less than 30 metres /98 feet deep. The reef is home to the greatest variety of flora and fauna species found in any one location in the world, including 1500 species of fish, 400 species of corals, 4000 species of molluscs, 500 species of seaweed, over 215 species of birds, and some of the largest populations of dugong in the world. In addition, a number of rare and endangered animal species breed annually in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Lizard Island Golden Sunset, Cairns QLD
Beautiful Lizard Island at Sunset

Great Barrier Reef Whale Watching

Humpback whales come from the Antarctic to give birth to their young and six of the world's seven species of sea turtle breed here. The almost 3000 reefs which comprise the Great Barrier Reef include 760 fringing reefs and 300 coral cays. Of the 300 coral cays, there are 213 unvegetated cays, 43 vegetated cays and 44 low wooded islands. In addition, there are over 600 continental islands.