There’s a sense of responsibility that comes when you’re visiting one of the world’s seven wonders; a calling to nurture nature. If leaving only footprints (or fin waves in this case) is high on your priority list, here are some ways you can help the Great Barrier Reef during your next holiday.
Come and visit
Contrary to popular belief, coming to see the Great Barrier Reef is one of the single best ways you can help in its conservation. Every visitor to the reef pays an Environmental Management Charge which contributes to the day-to-day management of the Marine Park and funding the research that is improving its long-term resilience. This charge also helps contribute to the Great Barrier Reef status of the world’s best managed reef.
Furthermore, if you see it, you’ll truly value and appreciate it; the more of people that do that, the more the world values it and the more the world will do to protect it.
Plant a coral by joining the Coral Nurture Program
Just as they did in the bid to have the World Heritage area declared, science and tourism have joined forces for the next wave of reef management in the form of the Coral Nurture Program.
While some conservation efforts are by scientists for science, the Coral Nurture Program uses the skills of tourism personnel who work on the reef to collect broken coral fragments, attach them to underwater frames where they will grow faster and then out-plant them on the reef.
Adopt a coral with the Reef Restoration Foundation
People have been adopting pandas for decades, but for the first time in Australian history you can now adopt a coral. The Reef Restoration Foundation’s program sees coral grow in an underwater nursery, from tiny finger-sized babies to large-scale coral colonies.
For as little as $50 you can join the coral crusade and adopt a coral (or store this idea away for that friend who is impossible to buy for). Got a bit more cash to splash? Up the ante with a coral branch, coral tree or sponsor a whole nursery, comprised of 10 coral trees.
The team are on a mission to plant 25,000 new corals on the Great Barrier Reef by 2021, in one of the most sustainable ways to encourage coral populations to flourish. After 6-12 months of growing under the tender love and care of scientists and volunteers, the coral grafts from the nursery are re-attached to the reef to spend the rest of their days.
See the reef with a Master Reef Guide
You need a guide to truly understand and appreciate the complexity of the Great Barrier Reef. The Master Reef Guides is a program to support the next level of reef ambassador, who earn their title by being endorsed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators and Tourism and Events Queensland as experts in story sharing.
It’s no swim in the (marine) park to earn the status – you have to undergo formal training and be considered the best in reef interpretations, storytelling and experience delivery.
When you tour with a certified Master Guide, you know you’re in the best possible hands. And good news for visitors, you’ll find them on board most reef experiences – just keep an eye out for the guide wearing the shirt emblazoned with Master Reef Guide.
Have your own Australian Geographic inspired experience on the reef
For a truly off–the–beaten–snorkel–path adventure, join Coral Expeditions for a day tour of some of the most remote sections of the outer reef.
The trip is hosted by an all-star cast, including Dr Dean Miller (Australian Geographic Society) and Dr Charlie Veron (aka the ‘Godfather of coral’), who will take you on the ultimate conservation experience. In fact, it’s a nature conservation experience that’s even endorsed by the Australian Geographic Society. Across the ten-day trip, you’ll have the opportunity to come eye-to-eye with the Dwarf Minke whales, participate in coral identification and the world’s first Living Coral Biobank project.
With only two trips planned per year, you’ll want to get in early to reserve your space on deck.
Go back to school with Reef Teach
Not all reef experiences are on the water. On dry land, you can help the reef by joining Reef Teach for an evening of education and conservation. Led by marine biologist and reef warrior Gareth Phillips, Reef Teach is Cairns’ only dedicated marine education, research, and conservation company. Their two-hour evening talk aims to educate their audience on one of the world’s most poorly understood ecosystems, oceans.
You’ll learn not just about their programs, like the underwater drone which is being released to monitor changes in coral health. For a more hands-on education experience, you can also join their Reef Naturalist Programs to follow in the fin-steps of marine biologists of the Great Barrier Reef. Depending which duration you choose (1-4 days), you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel and dive multiple dive sites led by a marine biologist and Master Reef Guide.
Learn about the reef from the original custodians of the World Heritage-listed wonder
Who better to learn about the importance of the reef than its first guardians, the Indigenous Traditional Custodians?
Join Juan Walker from Walkabout Cultural Adventures, for a full or half day tour through Kuku Yalanji country, to discover the cultural connection with land and sea. On the tour you’ll learn firsthand about sustainable hunting practices as you explore one of the reef’s most important ecosystems – the mangroves that support it.
For a different take on reef and rainforest, join Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel to discover two outer reef sites with guided interpretation from indigenous sea rangers.
Book a tour knowing your trip is being carbon offset
Sailaway has taken carbon offsetting into their own hands, establishing a 27–hectare tree farm in Port Douglas. In return for every passenger onboard one of their reef cruises, Sailaway contributes $20 of the price to re-vegetate this ex–cane paddock. You can snorkel easy knowing your trip is entirely carbon neutral – onboard a vessel that’s undoubtably the most sustainable way to see the Great Barrier Reef, a sailboat.
For more sustainable snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef, join Passions of Paradise who similarly help plant more than 1200 trees in the Daintree Rainforest every year to offset their reef tour’s carbon emissions.
Save a life at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
If you like to holiday with a heart, sit up and pay attention – there’s plenty you can do to save a turtle’s life. To find out how, pay a visit the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island, whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and research.
Its location, smack bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, is no coincidence since the Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles. You can help their cause by volunteering or touring the complex, learning about the sea turtles plight and what actionable steps you can put into place, even at home, to help them.
Get to know reef with the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef
If you thought the census only affected households every 10 years, think again. The Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef have designed The Great Reef Census for the world’s largest living organism to discover which of its reefs have been recently damaged and which have high levels of coral.
The premise is simple – knowledge is power – and when you know which parts of the Great Barrier Reef need management and which don’t, resources can be allocated to the right place. Anyone can participate in contributing to the coral census open source data. Even if you’re not on the reef, you can still take part in the Great Reef Census digitally by helping to analyse reef images coming back. By becoming a reef citizen scientist, you can drive real action to protect this iconic ecosystem from wherever you are in the world.
You can also join up as Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef and see what else they’re up to.
Contribute to Eye on the Reef program
Run by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Eye on the Reef relies on the input of day-trippers, tourists, fishers, rangers, researchers and scientists alike to gather information on reef health, marine animals and incidents for the reef’s long-term protection. Anyone can contribute to this program via an easy to use app that allows you to share photos and information of what you’ve seen on the reef including wildlife spotted, Crown-of-thorns starfish, pollution or coral spawning. All data collected allows GBRMPA to keep up to date with information on reef health status and trends, species distribution and early warnings of environmental impacts.
For those more skilled in the marine space, the program also runs a variety of surveys, including the Rapid Monitoring Survey, which asks contributors to use an underwater monitoring slate for more in-depth data collection.
Attend a beach clean-up
Did you know that plastic can make coral 20 times more susceptible to disease? Tangaroa Blue Foundation is dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris under their Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI). AMDI is an on-ground network of volunteers, communities and organisations that contribute data from rubbish collected during beach and river clean-up events to the AMDI Database, and then work on solutions to stop the flow of litter at the source.
Tangaroa Blue Foundation organise beach clean-ups around Australia and help communities care for their coastal environment through providing resources and support programs. Carpooling options to participate are usually available from Cairns and Port Douglas to areas including Cape Kimberley Mapoon and Chilli Beach.
You can also volunteer for a beach clean-up with Parley Australia.
Looking for more ways you can help the Great Barrier Reef?
Throughout the region you’ll find passionate people who care about the precious natural environments of Tropical North Queensland.
A vast number of operators – both on the reef and off – hold eco–certification and are doing their part to conserve these World Heritage wonders.
While you’re in region, you might also like to help the Great Barrier Reef with the following actions:
- Join Oceans 2 Earth volunteer programs
- Become a volunteer with the Great Barrier Reef Marine conservation volunteer program
- Only use reef-safe sunscreen and wear high SPF factor clothing where you can in place of sunscreen
- Pledge to give up plastic straws with Straw No More, the movement started in Cairns by 11 year old Molly Steer, to encourage schools and tuckshops to stop using straws
- Reduce your own carbon footprint with a few lifestyle adjustments – opt to cycle, walk or carpool to work, cut out single use plastics, plant an edible garden, join Meatless Monday, avoid packaged foods and/or reduce food waste.