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The spectacular GBR is a both a must-see destination and a precious eco-system. The rewards are high when make your visit a low-impact one.

Words by Craig Dixon

As feel-good factors go, nothing beats slipping into the sparkling waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether snorkelling, diving, island-hopping or simply marvelling at the stunning vistas and teeming marine life, it’s easy to let all cares drift away in the dazzling waters off Tropical North Queensland.

Rightly considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, maintaining the reef’s UNESCO World Heritage Status may seem a daunting task to add to your holiday to-do list. But little things can make a huge difference to this aquatic wonderland — and that’s where your visit comes in.

Just as the GBR relies on billions of tiny living creatures, the actions of each visitor to this pristine environment are crucial. The important thing is to make memories that last while having an impact that doesn’t, and that starts with being mindful of how human interaction effects one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth.

Skincare that cares for the environment

There are plenty of ways you can take personal responsibility for a low-impact visit to the GBR. Start by being conscious of your sunscreen choices. Some sunscreens contain ingredients that have a detrimental effect on corals – read the packaging and if you see oxybenzone, octinoxate and nanoparticles, leave them on the shelf. Instead, choose mineral sunblocks like zinc cream and swimwear with good coverage to reduce the risk of sunburn while protecting delicate corals.

Ditch the plastics

When you’re heading out on the reef, make sure you don’t carry single-use plastics, which pose a serious threat to reef life. Instead use reusable drink bottles and straws (this is not a bad rule to live by even when you’re not on holiday!) If you find plastic litter on the reef take it back to shore to dispose of properly or report it to your tour guide.

Float like a butterfly fish

Getting beneath the surface is one on of the great joys of the GBR and snorkelling and diving tours put you right at the centre of this mesmerising underwater paradise. Make these low-impact activities even more eco-friendly by not standing on or touching coral and using flotation devices to help you stay safely above the coral in shallow water.

The tropical north has an abundance of eco-aware reef tour operators, ranging from half-day snorkel trips off Cape Tribulation to outer reef dive expeditions and sailing trips to more remote and secluded destinations including Green Island. Look for companies accredited as an Advanced Ecotourism Operator or recognised through the Climate Action Certification Program.

Paddle and sail into island adventures

For low-emission, high-reward reef experiences, paddle and wind powered activities are perfect options. Kayak tours are a light-touch way to engage with the waters and wildlife of the tropical north. Gliding around islands like Fitzroy and Dunk offers incredible opportunities to get close to curious dolphins and gentle turtles. At Palm Cove, look for green and hawksbill turtles, rays and shovelnose sharks on a kayaking tour over the coral reefs of Haycock and Double Islands.

Both Cairns and Port Douglas have large fleets of sailing vessels; head to sea on a range of craft from fleet catamarans to old-school sailing ships. Cape Tribulation also offers sailing tours to the outer reef.

The reef thanks you

Just by visiting you are contributing to the long-term viability of the Great Barrier Reef. Every visitor pays an Environmental Management Charge, or “reef tax” built into the price of tours and activities approved by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. While the fee contributes to the day-to-day needs of the Marine Park, the real value in your visit are the experiences you share with the world knowing that small actions are a big deal in protecting this slice of paradise.

For more tips on reef conservation, visit the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef website.

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