Brad Climpson is a marine biologist who spent the last 20 years living on the edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. His passion for the underwater realm has taken him to Fiji, Indonesia, Bermuda, and the Maldives. Here, Brad shares his enthusiasm for one of his favorite places on the planet, north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.
Without doubt, the most well-known reef system in the world is the Great Barrier Reef. Found off the coast of Queensland and extending north towards Papua New Guinea, it is a little over 1,400 miles in length starting just north of Bundaberg, and extends along the coast of Queensland to just past the northernmost tip. The reef itself is found over 14 degrees of latitude and covers an area of 344,400 square kilometres, about half the size of Texas.
A tourist hot-spot for visitors to Australia, there are many places people can go to enjoy the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, though a lot of these places can be quite busy. Zegrahm’s upcoming Best of the Great Barrier Reef expedition, departing July 10, 2018, will take you to the more remote areas of the region and allow you to have your own unique experience with just the members of our group; no long lines with everyone and their brother visiting the same spot! Here, a few reasons why I can’t wait to return to this, my favorite region in the world:
Who Lives in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet with myriad complex ecosystems providing homes for a vast array of marine and terrestrial life. Found within its boundaries are 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, over 300 coral cays, and 150 inshore mangrove islands. Further marine life includes 600 species of hard and soft corals, 300 types of molluscs, 1,625 fish species, and up to 30 species of whale and dolphin have called this region home at some point in their lives. Above the water, there are many important areas for seabirds to breed and migratory birds to feed and rest; forested continental islands are considered refuge for many of the mainland species, as they can breed and feed in isolation from potential mainland predators.
What the Reef?
In the area we’ll be cruising in, there are three main types of reef commonly found—Platform, Fringing, and Ribbon. Platform Reefs are found along the continental platform where suitable conditions have allowed them to grow. They are in deeper water, but generally don’t have drop-offs exceeding 120 feet. Rachel Carson Reef, named after the famous American conservationist, will be our first stop, and is teeming with marine life; this is the perfect site for your first check-out dive, or to practice your snorkeling skills.
Fringing Reefs are generally shallow reef systems associated with continental and even coral cay islands; they ‘fringe’ the island, hence the name. Lizard Island, discovered by Captain Cook in 1770, will be the main Fringing Reef we visit; we’ll have the chance to swim, snorkel, and dive among many soft corals, fish species, and giant clam gardens.
Ribbon Reefs are named as such because from above, they look like long, thin ‘ribbons’ of reef that extend north to south. These reefs are the furthest reef systems out from the continental platform, and they actually meet the continental slope. This means that in some areas, the drop-off can be in excess of 3,000 feet! It is these reef systems we will primarily concentrate on, and for a number of good reasons: Due to the distance from the mainland and other islands, the water clarity is much higher at the Ribbon Reefs; this means better conditions for coral growth, and therefore higher species numbers, including fish, molluscs, rays, turtles, and even sharks!
But perhaps the main reason I’m excited about exploring the Ribbon Reefs is the time of year we will be there; during July, we hope to be visited by one of the ocean's most beautiful marine mammals, dwarf minke whales.
Whales on Whales
Dwarf minke whales were first described in 1985 as a separate species from northern and Antarctic minke whales. These beautiful animals are born around seven feet in length and reach an average of around 23 feet for males and 26 feet for females as adults, weighing around six tons. These inquisitive mammals feed in sub-Antarctic waters during summer and migrate up to the warmer waters of North Queensland in the Australian winter. This gives those of us exploring on the Best of the Great Barrier Reef expedition the perfect opportunity to have in-water interactions with them. They are inquisitive and friendly, known to approach boats, snorkelers, and divers alike; everyone will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with the dwarf minke whales, regardless of experience level!
This region is also home to the fastest growing population of humpback whales since the whale moratorium of 1966; from numbers in the hundreds back then, they are now reaching over 25,000 individuals! We are sure to meet mothers with their calves enjoying the warm tropical waters before they migrate back to Antarctic waters.
What Else Will We Do in the Great Barrier Reef?
Despite the many treasures of the underwater world, it is not only the marine environment that we will be concentrating on with this expedition; Lizard Island is famous for a visit from Captain James Cook. In 1770, after he repaired his ship, the Endeavour, in what is now known as Cooktown on the mainland, Cook and his men climbed to the top of Lizard Island to view the Coral Sea, looking for an exit point out of the perils of the reef system. For experienced and fit climbers, we offer this hike that leads to breathtaking views of the surrounding environment. The beautiful beach at Watson’s Bay is also a great place for a stroll, and a mangrove boardwalk behind the beach is perfect for searching for wildlife, including rainbow bee-eaters, kingfishers, and black flying fox.
We will also visit Stanley Island in Flinders Group National Park, very remote and isolated from any populated areas of the mainland. Here we will view the Yintayin, or “Ship,” rock shelter, which features images of ships painted in red and white ochre on the red sandstone. Macassan prau and European luggers line the walls, and it is believed that some of the vessels may be 16th- or 17th-century Portuguese ships known to have been in the waters around various parts of the Australian coastline during this time.
“The Great Barrier Reef…is a Great Place!”
I could talk forever about the beauties of the Far North Queensland area of Australia, as it is my home and, I believe, one of the most stunning places anywhere on our planet. If you don’t believe me, maybe you will listen to one of my favorite people, Sir David Attenborough. When asked what his favorite overseas destination was he replied, “It has to be North Queensland. It’s got mountains, it’s got tropical rainforests, it’s got the Barrier Reef. It’s got wonderful creatures that occur nowhere else. It’s a great place!”
This will be a trip where you get firsthand experiences with Sir David Attenborough’s—and my own!—favorite place in the world. I hope this has made you sufficiently excited to join us on our Best of the Great Barrier Reef expedition; I, myself, am jumping with anticipation as it is the first of its kind undertaken by Zegrahm, and the itinerary cannot be done with any other company! Come along and be part of this world-first, and unique, peek into the wonders of beautiful Far North Queensland.
For more information, visit Best of the Great Barrier Reef.