Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef – Is it Safe?

Last Updated: February 21, 2023

The Great Barrier Reef has been a world heritage site since 1981. Due to its popularity, the reef receives approximately 5 million tourists per year. It is a destination that is on the bucket list of many thrill seekers.

Talking about thrill-seeking, one question you might have had is, “Is it safe to snorkel in the Reef?”

Snorkeling is naturally a bit risky adventure. And when you’re out there in expansive water bodies of the Great Barrier Reef’s caliber, a lot can possibly go wrong.

So, just how safe is it to snorkel in this part of the world? Are there any special skills needed? Let’s explore.

Can You Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef?

great barrier reef snorkeling

Yes, you can snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, it is one of the best snorkeling venues in the world, attracting millions of visitors every year.

The popular destination is a collection of several coral reefs, a host to over 400 types of corals, and 1,500 fish species. The diverse marine life makes the barrier an attractive snorkeling destination.

It is, therefore, no surprise that it is dubbed a snorkeler’s paradise conducive for novices and experts alike.

That said, most of the reefs are only accessible by boat. For a unique snorkel adventure, you may need to book a tour.

The tropical weather is warm and wonderful for snorkeling all year round. Even in winter, the temperature is still pleasant at a low of 75 F (24 C).

Best Time to Snorkel Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef does not have an officially designated time to or not to visit. It is open for tourism the entire year. Regardless, there is still a period when you can get the most from your visit.

As you make your plans, take note of the main annual seasons of the region;

December to March

It is the wet season in the area. Though you can still snorkel, it will be uncomfortable and a tad risky.

January to March

If you have a particular interest in sea turtles, they hatch in this period. Thereafter, they migrate to the Pacific Ocean.

March and Afterward

After the rainy season, the weather clears and gets better. Some species such as whales arrive during this period.

July to August

These are the best months to visit the Great Barrier Reef. During this time, the waters are as clear as they can get. You can easily watch the surreal and spectacular marine life comfortably.

Best Snorkel Sites in the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef has numerous snorkeling sites. Some of the best of these sites include:

1. Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg

This island has serene waters and underwater gardens adjacent to the beach. You don’t need to venture far into the sea to enjoy the site. Here, you will experience a rich oceanic life of sea urchins, reef fish, coral outcrops, and starfish among others.

2. Bougainville Island, Northern Coral Sea

The island is among the few that do not require a boat to access. It is in an open space that is wonderful for snorkeling. In its waters are families of turtles and large manta rays.

3. Green Island, Cairns

If your desire is to experience the sheer splendor of the Great Barrier Reef, visit Green Island. The rich marine life and the lavish coral gardens make the island one of the best snorkeling locations in the globe. Its aquatic inhabitants include sea cucumbers, giant clams, unique anemones, and a range of fish species.

4. Flynn Reef, Outer Reef

The site is reputable for its magnificent coral gardens. The reef has an abundance of both soft and hard corals. It is an incredible exploit to snorkel in the reef due to the array of colors that rival a rainbow. In the waters you will also find whitetip reef sharks.

5. Orpheus Island, Townsville

If you would like to see the most colorful outcrops or bommies of the Great Barrier Reef, go to Orpheus Island. The reef has more than 340 types of corals including the largest collection of soft corals in the region. It is also home to manta rays, reef sharks, bull rays and green turtles, and over 1000 fish species.

6. Magnetic Island, Townsville

Magnetic Island is usually conspicuous from Townsville due to its white surface and subsurface floaters. Are you a novice snorkeler? Nelly Bay at the island is the spot for you. The snorkel location is only 100 meters from the beach.

In case you opt to follow the snorkel trail at Geoffrey Bay, you will encounter a wreckage of a WWII fighter plane and the remains of the SS Molte shipwreck. The two historical remains will definitely add to your underwater thrill.

7. Ribbon Reefs, Port Douglas

The reef is known for its pristine ecosystem and clear visibility. The shallow lagoons are rich in corals and an abundance of sea life. In your snorkeling venture, you are likely to come across giant clams, hammerhead sharks, black tip sharks, and a variety of reef fish. Enlist the help of a licensed operator if you would like to snorkel alongside dwarf minke whales.

8. Saxon, Norman and Hastings Reefs, Cairns

The three reefs are a host to diverse marine life and have good visibility. Saxon Reef has many shallow platforms that are home to fusiliers, clownfish, anemones, damselfish, and colorful corals.

To watch minke whales, you’ll want to snorkel in the Norman Reef; it is their favorite spot in winter. Hastings Reef is famous for splendid coral formations where giant clams, small reef sharks, colorful butterfly fish, and parrotfish reside.

Marine Life in the Great Barrier Reef

Considering the barrier is the largest coral reef globally, it definitely has abundant aquatic life. Some marine wildlife you may encounter during your snorkel expedition here include:

  • Dolphins
  • Loggerhead and green turtles
  • Manta Rays
  • Numerous reef fish species like batfish, clownfish, angelfish among many others
  • Rainbow-colored corals
  • Reef, Humpback, and minke sharks
  • Sea snakes
  • Shrimp and nudibranchs
  • Whales

Related: Help to Protect Coral Reefs by Following Basic Guidelines

Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Tours

The best way to tour the Great Reef is through the port city of Cairns. Located in Northern Australia and some 3 hours from Sydney by flight, Cairns is the gateway to the wonders every snorkeler would want to unravel.

Dozens of tour companies operate from there and are always on hand to make your snorkeling tour seamless and ultimately memorable.

Is it Worth Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef is a unique snorkeling destination for nature lovers due to its rich marine life and the vast number of sites available to explore. The fact that the barrier is accessible all year round makes it a convenient vacationing spot.

As a fun-loving person, you have the option to snorkel, use a glass-bottom boat, or view marine life from a helicopter. Whichever your choice, you can rest assured a visit to this location will be well worth your time.

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