The Great Barrier Reef is the World’s largest coral reef and covers an area of 133,000 square miles and can be seen from outer space. It is composed of over 900 separate islands and 2,900 individual reefs. Home to a huge variety of life including 1500 species of fish this is a delight for underwater enthusiasts.
Several companies offer reef trips from both Cairns and Port Douglas. We chose Seastar Cruises for our reef experience because they only allow a maximum of 38 people and have excellent TripAdvisor reviews.
Our day started early in Cairns Marina where we boarded the above boat with the other 36 passengers. For a small number of people there was a good mix of young and old, families, groups, couples and solo people all comprising of several nationalities.
It took over an hour before we reached Michaelmas Reef, our first of two reef destinations. As we were visiting in the Box jellyfish season we had to wear sting suits (above). One of the most deadliest species is Chironex fleckori which can have up to 60 stinging tentacles each measuring up to 3 metres in length.
In comparison the Irukandji box jellyfish are much smaller (typically just a few centimetres long) . Both species are extremely poisonous to humans and although it is rare there have been fatalities especially from the sting of Chironex fleckori. It is well worth doing some research on the risks especially before entering the water from a beach where sting-suits are less likely to be worn.
The boat anchored 50 metres or so off the island (below). We were then taken accross in a small boat where we could snorkel in the shallow water. The tiny island is home to nesting sea birds and as they are protected by the Australian authorities there are hefty fines if you stray outside of your designated boat area.
After lunch on board the boat we sailed for another 20 minutes or so onto Hastings Outer Reef. The sea was deeper here and the snorkelling was from the boat rather than the beach but there was a lot more fish and coral.
We were incredibly lucky to see a Green Turtle, probably about half a meter long. Whilst most of the group had gone back to the boat we had drifted slightly away toward a shallow area and it was here that we saw the turtle foraging for seagrass amongst the coral. We watched it for about 5 minutes before it swam away. This was the real highlight of the day for us.