Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, Australia - April 2019
by David K
Lined Surgeonfish and Sixbar Wrasse
My wife, 18 year-old daughter, and I just returned from an 11 day trip to Cairns, Australia, the "gateway to the Great Barrier Reef." We snorkeled in two locations: Fitzroy Island and the outer reef, which I'll describe first.
We booked a couple of half day tours to Hastings Reef with www.skedaddlecairns.com.au. They use a smallish but very fast boat that gets you to the reef in just under an hour. Our first day out was rough with two meter waves, though it was a little calmer over the reef, and visibility was good. Stinger suits were needed as it was jellyfish season. Fish were abundant, with many varieties of parrotfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, triggerfish, and angelfish. Giant clams were numerous. There were few large fish, though I did see a Maori Wrasse.
A significant fraction of the coral was dead, which I've read is due to tropical cyclones, climate change, and Crown-of-Thorns Sea Stars. In Belize, where I snorkeled last fall, the reef is healthier.
The boat crew were professional and thorough. My only complaint is that they went a little "overboard" with safety. For example, if they deemed that your snorkel was not visible enough, they asked you to use theirs. With beginners on board, perhaps this was necessary.
On Fitzroy Island, you can snorkel right off of the beach. Unfortunately, the visibility was poor, and the majority of the coral was dead. Despite this, we saw a surprising number of interesting fish.
I'm glad that we got to Australia, but it's an awfully long trip from the midwestern U.S., and I'll probably stick with the Caribbean for a while.