Great Barrier Reef diving (Australia) is without question one of the best ways to explore coral reefs not only in the Pacific Ocean, but in the entire world.
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the world’s largest coral reef, extending some 1,250 miles (2,000 km) along the eastern coast of Queensland at distances ranging from 10 to 100 miles (16 to 160 km) offshore. The reef has an estimated total area of about 135,000 square miles (350,000 square km).
The GBR actually consists of some 2,100 individual outer reef sections (see photo, right) and perhaps 800 fringing reefs growing from the shores of over 1000 islands that make up part of this gigantic ecosystem.
Many of these islands are dry or barely awash at low tide, although there are some “high islands” that are inhabited and in some cases house resorts.
The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from orbiting astronauts with the naked eye, and is often cited as the world’s largest structure made by living organisms.
Great Barrier Reef diving offers almost unlimited coral reef exploration opportunities, from shallow protected patch reefs to sections of steeply plummeting fore-reef more than 50 miles offshore.
This enormous marine ecosystem supports a great diversity of marine life, including at least 1500 species of fishes, 350 corals, 4000 kinds of mollusks, and 10,000 species of sponges.
It is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GRBRMPA), which advises the Australian Government on the control, care and development of the Marine Park. About 1/3 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is protected from species removal of any kind.
The Great Barrier Reef is listed by the World Heritage Trust as a protected site.
The best time for Great Barrier Reef diving is from April through October. The tropical wet season lasts from November to March. During this time large influxes of box jellyfish can prohibit swimming in the ocean. In general, the islands of the Great Barrier Reef get warmer and wetter (particularly from January to March) as you move north.
There are several options available when it comes to lodging while exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
One of the most popular and economical ways to explore the reef is to stay at a hotel or resort on the mainland and take day trips to the reef whenever you wish. Most dive tourism of this nature is concentrated in the Whitsundays and Cairns (in North Queensland). Many cities in tis area offer daily boat trips to the reef.
Another option – for the really hard-core scuba diver – is one of the many “live-aboard” dive boats that roam the reef for a few days or a week. If you want to 4-5 dives a day and not much else, this is your ticket.
Our pick for the best way to engage in Great Barrier Reef diving is to stay at one of the 30+ resorts situated on islands that are part of the reef system itself. These generally offer ready access to a variety of diving and snorkeling sites.
Accommodations on these islands range from camping grounds or bungalows to luxury resorts. Many of these destinations offer fine snorkeling right from shore, as well as comparatively short boat rides to the fore reef for scuba divers.
Belize is a bit over a 2-hour flight from Miami or Houston. At last report direct flights were also available from Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada.
Airline tickets are normally cheaper in advance. Great deals on airfare to Belize International Airport (BZE) from major gateway cities are usually available. We recommend making your reservations at least three to four months prior to your trip, especially if you will be travelling during the peak season of January through May.
For those travelling to the Barrier Reef resorts on the Middle Cayes, you can connect to Dangriga from Belize International Airport on Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. The flight is approximately 20 minutes, typically in a 14-passenger plane.
Alternately, you can take a 2-3 hr scenic drive to Dangriga and avoid the weight restrictions imposed by the Maya Island Air and Tropic Air operations, which can result in any of your baggage that exceeds the 40 lbs weight restriction (very typical for scuba divers) arriving on a later flight.
The resorts on Glover’s Reef usually include boat transportation to the atoll directly from the port at Belize City as part of the package price.
The six cays of Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve are privately owned. There are dive ‘resorts” on several of the largest of these. There are an abundance of patch reefs to snorkel or dive within the lagoon, and spectacular 3,000 ft. walls right offshore the local dive resorts.
Keep in mind that by “resort” in the context of this isolated atoll we refer to what might more appropriately be called an “adventure eco-tourism” lodge. These are rustic accommodations as one should expect at locations like this that are cut off from the main power, water, and communication networks of the mainland. Do not expect private flush toilets or showers in each room, air conditioning, TV, etc.
Nonetheless, the quality of the Belize diving here more than compensates for what some might call a bit of “roughing it”. The rooms are generally clean and comfortable, the food is fresh and excellent, and the sense of privacy and natural beauty unmatched.
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