Blog Post

Reef Talk – A chat with marine biologist Gareth Phillips

Julie Johnston

TNQ Writer

The Great Barrier Reef is a thriving, living marine environment. It inspires all who visit, even those who see it every day, like marine biologist and owner of Reef Teach, Gareth Phillips.

As the only coral reef visible from space, you’d think it would be the size and scale that’s most impressive, but for Gareth, the true beauty is in its detail.

“I really love the coral,” he said. “The relationship between the coral and its symbiotic algae is amazing. The animal (coral) itself is pretty insignificant on its own, the algae too, but you put them together and they build, stimulate and control an entire ecosystem, as enormous as the Great Barrier Reef. Mind blowing.”

Scuba diving

Christmas tree worms

Nudibranch (Type of Sea Slug)

Clown fish

Gareth could be described as a reef warrior. Born in South Africa with a passion for the sea, he moved half way around the world to be closer to the best marine environment on earth. Your trip will be a lot shorter, making it even easier for you to get close to the reef. These days, he visits it pretty much every day and it still excites him.

“To me, it is a privilege to go to the Great Barrier Reef. Even though I go multiple times every week, I still believe I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I always take a moment every day I am out there, just to look at it and appreciate it.”

So where does a reef warrior and marine biologist think the best place to visit the Great Barrier Reef is? “Tropical North Queensland is a ‘must’ place to visit the reef. In North Queensland the reef is closer to the coast, so there’s much shorter travel times. This provides a much wider demographic of tourist with the ability to experience the Great Barrier Reef (in particular the outer Reef), in an easy and comfortable manner.”

It’s a big place, so let’s narrow it down for you. For Gareth, the outer Great Barrier Reef is the place to be and here’s some of his favourite dive sites. “Off Cairns, there’s one dive sight called T5 Canyons with nearly 100% live coral coverage, that’s on the outer wall of Thetford Reef. Flynn Reef has Ski Slopes, Three Sisters on Milln Reef and Troppos on Norman Reef. Off Port Douglas, on the Agincourt Reefs, I like Gary’s Gut, The Point and Barracuda Bommie. In the Ribbons (even further north, accessible on a liveaboard dive boat), definitely Steve’s Bommie.”

Gareth Phillips

To me, it is a privilege to go to the Great Barrier Reef. Even though I go multiple times every week, I still believe I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I always take a moment every day I am out there, just to look at it and appreciate it

Accessibility is key for Great Barrier Reef operators and there’s a trip and/or tour to suit people of all ages and abilities. Gareth loves the corals: ‘People describe me as being a little weird about my passion for coral. Maybe it’s not as specific as they’d like me to me, but I do love it’. Beyond that, there’s more species here than almost any other marine environment on earth. We’re talking 1,700 species of fish, 6 out of the world’s 7 marine turtle species, 133 shark species, 30 species of whales and dolphins and 1,800 species of worms (we’re talking brilliant and beautiful, no wrinkly and crawly).

To be a Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef, we encourage you of course to visit it, connect with it and love it. More than that, take the time to learn about it, and be a part of the journey to protect it, for today, tomorrow and our future generations. You can do this by making sure Reef Teach is a part of your Great Barrier Reef experience in Cairns. Meet Gareth and share his passion.

Feather star on whip coral

“The one thing I truly love to talk about and contemplate, is how intricate the environment is. How it’s all connected. It just amazes me how the system has evolved to be so resilient and yet so fragile, all at the same time.”

“It’s very important for me personally, and through Reef Teach, to spread the word that the Great Barrier Reef is not dead. Unfortunately, with the large amount of bad PR the Reef has received, many people believe it is too late to protect it. My message, is that the Great Barrier Reef is alive and well. It might be having a hard time right now, but that just means it needs our help even more than ever. It’s not a lost cause!” Come visit, learn, explore and then help protect this natural paradise forever more. – www.reefteach.com.au