A whole new cast of characters can be spotted during summer on the Great Barrier Reef when light winds and excellent visibility offer optimum conditions for snorkelling and diving from Cairns.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has posted a picture of the first whale shark arriving and Cairns-based Master Reef Guide Michelle Barry, who works for the Entrada Travel Group, anticipates more sightings.
“Whale sharks arrive on the Great Barrier Reef before the coral spawn, with the curious juvenile males often seen by passengers on the boats,” she says.
“Summer brings a whole different cast of characters as there is an abundance of food. Turtles return from all over the globe to their nesting grounds, so you regularly see much larger turtles on the reef in summer.
“The marine life is so distracted by their sexual impulses at this time of the year that it is easier to see their true behaviour.
“I’ve observed butterflyfish turning into vicious predators in their hunt for cuttlefish eggs, while male sea horses not much bigger than a grain of rice are more easily seen because they are fat with babies.”
Quicksilver Group Master Reef Guide Sam Gray says summer is the sexiest time on the Great Barrier Reef.
“The waters are warm and calm with amazing visibility, often around 25 metres. The coral is about to spawn, the turtles are randy, and the birds are nesting on Michaelmas Cay, making it the season of love and warmth,” she says.
With water temperatures around 25C in Cairns & Great Barrier Reef, sunsuits replace cumbersome wetsuits and you can comfortably spend more time in the water exploring the most diverse ecosystem on earth.
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to experiencing the Great Barrier Reef. A variety of tours depart from Cairns, Port Douglas and Mission Beach, the closest mainland ports to the outer Great Barrier Reef. They offer snorkelling, and introductory and certified scuba diving day trips to pontoons, islands, sand cays and offshore reefs, as well as longer liveaboard trips.
For those who prefer to stay dry, semi-submersible and glass-bottom vessels provide popular views of the Great Barrier Reef, while helmet dives are a fun way to get to the bottom of the ocean without getting your hair wet.
Large, comfortable catamarans travel to water activity platforms on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and these pontoons are a great way to experience the reef for the first time. Quicksilver’s pontoon is at Agincourt Reef, one of the stunning ribbon reefs on the outer edge of the Continental Shelf, accessed from Port Douglas.
From Cairns you can travel to a choice of three water activity platforms at Moore Reef via helicopter or fast catamaran. Try the Scuba Doo underwater scooter with Great Adventures, join a marine biologist snorkelling tour with Reef Magic Cruises or make a splash with the 30-metre spiral waterslide at Sunlover Reef Cruises’ marine base.
Visit the reef with Indigenous sea rangers on Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, and take in two different outer reef sites with Passions of Paradise, Down Under Cruise & Dive or Ocean Freedom. Snorkel alongside the Reef Restoration Foundation’s Hastings Reef Coral Nursery with Seastar Cruises.
Turtles are regularly seen in the shallow waters of the islands and sand cays. Green Island and Fitzroy Island are a short boat ride from Cairns, or visit the bird sanctuary of Michaelmas Cay with Ocean Spirit. Discover massive gardens of anemones and cabbage corals with Frankland Islands Reef Cruises.
Sail from Port Douglas to the reefs surrounding Mackay and Undine sand cays with Sailaway or visit beautiful carbon-neutral Low Isles with Calypso Reef Cruises. You can also travel straight from the world’s oldest rainforest to the Great Barrier Reef on a fast boat ride from Cape Tribulation with Ocean Safari.
One day is never enough for certified divers and there are a number of liveaboard adventures departing from Cairns for three to seven-night expeditions exploring some of the best reefs. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions visit the Cod Hole where you can dive with giant potato cod and travel to extraordinary remote reefs where sharks and barracuda congregate.
If you want to want to learn to dive Divers Den and Pro Dive Cairns can teach you in their purpose-built pools before joining their liveaboard trips to the outer Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns-based Coral Expeditions is the first expedition cruise ship to recommence operations with its seven-night Great Barrier Reef trip. The Coral Discoverer visits the remote islands and reefs of the northern Great Barrier Reef, after developing a world-class health and safety ‘SailSAFE’ plan.
For more information go to cairnsgreatbarrierreef.com.