The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef – covering 2,900 individual reefs over a 2,300 km stretch. The reef is located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia, and is usually accessed from the town of Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space and is the world’s biggest living structure. It supports a huge diversity of life including reef sharks, silvertips, silky sharks, barracuda, giant potato cod, and giant clams. The reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Worryingly, it faces a number of environmental pressures, with significant areas of coral dying due to high water temperatures resulting from climate change. Despite these pressures, it is one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth. Visiting the reef can’t help but give a new perspective on the beauty and fragility of the natural world.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average spend per person: $2,700 ($2,700 – $2,700)
Number of reports: 1
Best time to visit: January – December
Typical activities: boat trip, scuba diving
Wildlife in the Great Barrier Reef
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
Reef shark – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
The three most common species of shark found around the Great Barrier Reef are grey, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks. Grey and whitetips are mainly found on exposed dropoffs and reef crests. While blacktips prefer the reef flats and lagoon areas. All three species are commonly found throughout the year and you don’t need a liveaboard to see them. That said, the stand out place to see sharks of all species is Osprey Reef which does require a liveaboard to get to (see more below).
Sadly, studies of reef shark populations in the area have found significant declines due to their slow reproduction rates and high levels of fishing. Sharks are protected on the reef although the success has been mixed. Over the past 20-40 years reef shark populations have increased significantly in areas were no human access is allowed. Although more slowly in areas where recreational access is allowed but fishing is prevented. This is appears to be due to poaching in these areas – with one study finding up to 18% of fishers admitting to fishing illegally. Given the issues for shark populations on the reef, it is really important to check the approach to sustainability of any dive operator you choose.
Silky shark – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Silky sharks are one of the most abundant oceanic sharks. However, they are rarely encountered as they are typically found in open water away from the shore. Osprey Reef is one of the few places where divers have a chance to see these beautiful creatures. Situated nearly 350 km away from Cairns, Osprey Reef is the most northerly of the reefs in the Coral Sea. It is separated from the continental shelf by a deep water trough. The reef is in pristine condition with spectacular soft corals that often exceed 2 m in height. Making it a great place to see sharks. Most visitors don’t make it this far out but those who do are rewarded by a series of incredible dive sites.
The North Horn dive site on Osprey Reef, in particular, is home to an breathtaking shark feed dive. Divers wait in a natural amphitheatre while hundreds of grey reef, silky, and silvertip sharks begin to circle. When the food is released a feeding frenzy erupts creating a truly mind blowing experience. The dive is conducted under the strict guidelines of the Queensland government to ensure the safety of the divers. What’s more, the environmental management fee that divers pay contributes to the creation of no-take zones which (although not perfect) can help to protect the sharks.
Silvertip shark – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Silvertips are large, sleek, and beautiful sharks. They can be found cruising around various dive sites at Osprey Reef although the best place to see silvertip sharks is North Horn. A study of shark populations on Osprey Reef found that silvertips (as well as grey and whitetips) spend most of their time on the north and western parts of the reef – particularly the north west corner. By contrast, the eastern wall and southern ends were rarely visited.
Silvertips are inquisitive, aggressive, and unafraid of divers. In the water they can approach closely and are regarded as potentially dangerous. According to the International Shark Attack File, silvertips have been responsible for one unprovoked attack. Seeing one of these sharks cutting through the water in front of you gives you a sense of their awesome power and is one you’ll never forget!