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5 eco-friendly ways to visit the Great Barrier Reef

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

29 October 2017

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Want to swim in a marine landscape as vivid as Finding Nemo? The Great Barrier Reef has always been one of the great bucket list icons but a raft of environmental and human pressures has left it vulnerable. Here are five ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef without damaging it.

Sir David Attenborough and his team return this week with Blue Planet II, shot partly at the conservationist’s favourite spot, the Great Barrier Reef (he's been visiting since 1957). The reef he warns, like the rest of our oceans, is in danger of being choked by our plastic use. Attenborough has even created his own website, that allows people to explore the Great Barrier Reef and understand the threats to its survival.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living organism but in recent decades this iconic natural habitat has suffered at our hands. It lost 50% of its coral cover between 1985 and 2012 and overfishing, coastal development and poor water quality have added to its woes, aside from the impacts of climate change and increased plastic in our ocean.

Blue Planet II has been scored by Radiohead and Hans Zimmer

Want to see the Great Barrier Reef without damaging it? Here are 5 ways you can help save the reef while scuba-ing to your heart’s content


Revel in the reef’s beauty

Looking for stellar scuba diving and sustainable snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef? Head to Heron Island, which is just off the coast of Gladstone. It’s a coral cay with 24 square kms of reef, parts of which are favourite spots for green and loggerhead turtles. Entire clouds of multi-coloured fish ebb and flow around the cay, while the enormity of the world’s largest living organism really comes home to roost when you’re surrounded by it on every side.

Heron island is also a world class research facility, famous for its ecological research into reef ecosystems and you can get involved in hands-on learning through the tours of the station. The research staff are happy to give you an insight into what they’re working on.

Eco Friendly Ways Visit Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of nearly 3,000 individual reefs

Tourism & Events Queensland

Laze in eco-luxury on Lizard Island

Take the luxury up a notch at Lizard Island. If you’re on a once in a lifetime holiday or a honeymoon (also hopefully a once in a lifetime thing), you can mix a full on indulgent escape with an eco-hotel experience. Lizard Island is both a National Park and part of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s also home to the one hotel which has 24 white sand beaches - enough for one per couple to enjoy complete privacy. While it’s certainly expensive, the hotel puts the environment first, working with local communities and experts to make sure the delicate balance between reef and relaxed holidaymaker remains positive for everyone.

There’s also a research facility on the island which conducts around 100 projects each year. Guests are invited to tour it twice a week. For divers, the hotel is a short boat ride away from the Cod Hole, one of the most famous dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef.

Eco Friendly Ways Visit Great Barrier Reef Lizard Island

There are over 900 islands along the length of the Great Barrier Reef

Tourism & Events Queensland

TOMS (UK)

Help study manta rays on Lady Elliot Island

Coral cay Lady Elliot Island is one of the closest reef islands from Brisbane; it’s known for its eco-initiatives in studying manta rays and its eco-tourism tours. A stay here brings those Great Barrier Reef TV shots to life, the island teems with fish, turtles, whales and other delights. Go for guided reef walks, snorkel and dive in one of the best locations on the reef.

The island’s eco-resort caters for all budgets, from tented cabins to luxurious beach suites but it runs off solar power, filters all its own seawater onsite for drinking and composts its food waste.

Eco Friendly Ways Visit Great Barrier Reef Manta Rays

There are 35 species of manta ray who live on the Great Barrier Reef

Tourism & Events Queensland

Channel your inner Robinson Crusoe

It’s only fitting that the Great Barrier Reef is home to Australia’s most sustainable island resort. Bedarra is all barefoot luxury that leaves a lighter footprint on the planet. It has 45 hectares of tropical rainforest to enjoy - you’ll wish you were shipwrecked here forever. It’s like being in paradise and with only ten suites, you’ll get the Robinson Crusoe vibe the moment you step ashore.

Bedarra was devastated in a cyclone in 2011, but has reopened with an off-grid solar power system, it reuses spring and rainwater, grows its own fruits and veggies and composts all of its food waste. It now also uses a glass crusher to turn used bottles to sand. The staff can send you off to a remote island with a gourmet picnic, arrange candlelit dining or just string up a hammock and chill.

Eco Friendly Ways Visit Great Barrier Reef Lady Elliot Island

Six species of turtle use the Great Barrier Reef as a breeding ground

Tourism & Events Queensland

Snap and save the Great Barrier Reef

Over at Townsville, Reef HQ is the national research and education station and home to the largest living coral reef aquarium in the world. The marine team there can teach you what threats to the reef to look out for, like coral bleaching (caused by warming seas) or the purple and black emo-looking crown of thorns starfish which eats and destroys coral reefs. Use its Eye on the Reef app to snap anything you see and send it to the facility which tracks the incidents and their locations. They can also advice on the best eco-tours of the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Eco Friendly Ways Visit Great Barrier Reef 4

There are more than 1,500 species of fish on the Great Barrier Reef

Tourism & Events Queensland

Don’t stop when you get home…

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, headed up by the ex-CEO of Earth Hour, Andy Ridley, is an association that looks to promote and protect this global marine icon. It wants to bring people together from all over the globe who will pledge to help the reef - not through donating money but by helping positive change locally and globally that helps the whole planet’s oceans. The damage seen on the Great Barrier Reef isn’t a local issue, it’s  a red flag to our pollution problem that needs a global response.

And one last thing...

Here's 5 easy ways to carbon offset your flights. You're welcome.

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