The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef islands can be experienced and explored by staying at Whitsunday Wilderness Lodge, Australia's most secluded and natural island guest house. The lodge is on the southern tip of Long Island, one of more than seventy National Park islands of the Whitsunday group of islands, which are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Great Barrier Reef is thought to be the earth's largest structure created by living creatures. It consists of a chain of coral reef stretching 2,000km along the east coast of Australia, covering about 350,000 square kilometres, and is the largest system of corals and associated plants and animals in the world.It contains approximately:-

  1. 1,500 species of fish
  2. 400 species of coral
  3. 4,000 species of molluscs
  4. 500 species of seaweed
  5. 215 species of birds
  6. 16 species of sea snakes
  7. 6 breeding species of turtles
  8. Some of the largest populations of dugong in the world.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was established in 1975, and is the largest marine protected area in the world. The Marine Park region includes the platform reefs of the outer reef (which follow the edge of the continental shelf where the sea bed drops away to deeper water), about 300 coral cays (islands built up by reef debris of broken coral and shells) and about 600 continental islands (which were once part of the mainland) with their fringing reefs.

The Whitsunday islands consist of about 70 of these continental islands which have fringing reef around them of varying quality and quantity. Coral tends to grow best away from any source of fresh water run off coming from creeks, rivers or urban development. For this reason, the further away from the coast you get, the better the conditions for coral growth, and coral is usually best around the headlands from bays, rather than right in the middle of a bay, which often has a freshwater creek running into it. There is a reef across Paradise Bay, in front of the Wilderness Lodge, which is definitely worth snorkelling in the right conditions, but the best coral will be seen about 200 metres around the southern headland and at other locations visited by our yacht.

Factors influencing snorkeling include recent rain, which distributes more sediment in the water, the tides, and sunshine, which highlights the colours of the coral. The tidal range in the waters around the Whitsunday islands is about 4 metres maximum, but this varies day to day, and can be as little as 2 metres at certain times of the month. The water visibility is best when the tidal range is smallest, because the currents (which stir up silt and sediment) aren't as strong. Most photographs you see of coral are taken with very bright spotlights when the water is very clear, so sometimes you need to be patient - the colours are generally there if you look closely and the sun is out.

The main difference between snorkeling around the islands and snorkeling on the outer Great Barrier Reef is the water visibility. Although there are similar corals and fish, the water visibility is always better on the outer reef. There are times when the water is too cloudy to see anything around the islands due to rain, strong winds or large tidal movements. The outer reef is about 30 nautical miles east of the Whitsunday islands - too far for a day sailing trip. So the best way to see the outer reef is by seaplane, which only takes about 40 minutes from the Wilderness Lodge. The aerial view allows you to fully appreciate the vast size and spectacular colours a patterns formed by the thousands of ribbon reefs - before landing in a lagoon right amongst the reef to allow you to snorkel from a small glass bottom boat. The seaplane trip is included in your tariff at the Wilderness Lodge.