School of fish swimming through the clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef

Comprehensive Guide To Scuba Diving On The Great Barrier Reef

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Comprehensive Guide to scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef

Scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef is a bucket list item I can now proudly say is ticked off my list. Spending a week in Cairns for my birthday, there was only one way to add a cherry on top - exploring our greatest natural wonder of the world! Scuba diving is a great activity for adventurous, sea loving people but I think everyone should try it at least once. The serenity of being in a completely other world, cannot be compared to any other experience. This detailed blog runs through any questions you may have about Scuba Diving on The Great Barrier Reef. Check out our full experience with Ocean Spirit Cruises at the bottom.

Rainbow Parrot Fish swimming around coral
Snorkelling around Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef

What To Expect When Scuba Diving On The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef of Queensland, Australia, is the largest living structure on Earth. This natural shore barrier is home to thousands of marine creatures. A plethora of colours, shapes and sizes. You can expect to see things you will never see anywhere else. Plants and animals that are so unique, they will intrigue you for years to come.
You'll dive into scenes that feel like David Attenborough should be narrating in the background. Like you'll turn around and see the cameraman from Blue Planet 2 following you. 
Creatures you may see include: Dolphins, Whales, Turtles, Sharks, Stingrays, Jellyfish, Eels, Giant Clams, Octopus, Squid, Seahorses and Fish of every kind! Can you spot Nemo, Bruce or Dory? 
On the islands dotted all along the Great Barrier Reef, you'll also find dozens of marine bird species. This natural highway of islands is the perfect spot for many migratory birds to breed and feed. Allowing for more dazzling wildlife encounters above the water too.
You can expect warm, crystal clear waters. A feeling of paradise attached to each wave.

Scuba Diving at Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef Australia

Scuba Diving On The Great Barrier Reef For Beginners

Scuba Diving on The Great Barrier Reef is an activity that is a once in a lifetime for most. You do not require a diving certificate or previous experience to participate. 
I had a fantastic scuba diving instructor on board Ocean Spirit. He made sure we felt safe and comfortable at all times. This was my third time ever scuba diving, so it was good to get a detailed refresher before jumping in. A few tips really stuck in my mind that made the dive perfect: 
1) Focus on your breathing. This allows all fears or concerns to float away. The only thing that you need to do is breathe. Keep it natural. Don't force yourself to breathe faster or slower, just relax and breathe as normal.
2) Make sure you can see your instructor/partner at all times. I know there are some awesome things to see on the ocean floor, but don't get too distracted that you lose sight of your buddy.
3) Be sure to constantly equalise. If you forget or don't do it properly it can become quite painful. I have sinus issues and it has caused me great pain in a previous dive. Remembering to continuously equalise on this dive, saved me from discomfort and allowed me to focus on Nemo instead. There are various ways to do this, be sure to ask your instructor.
4) Enjoy your time underwater! Diving sessions seem to go too fast for me. I wish I could spend all day down there. Enjoy every moment you have. Marvel at the wonders of nature. Take your time to really think about all of the colours your seeing. Try not to worry about any of the 'what if's' that can creep into the mind.
5) If you become uncomfortable or something isn't right, tell your instructor straight away. Things can change very quickly underwater. If you ever feel unsafe or too claustrophobic, signal to your instructor without hesitation. Safety is the number one priority. Don't try and 'put up' with whatever is going on.

Fish swimming very close through the clear waters

What To Consider When Picking A Great Barrier Reef Tour?

There's a few things to consider, when picking the right company for you.
1) What activities do you want to do? There's options of just snorkelling, just scuba diving, staying in one spot all day, moving around, and a mix of all. What is it you want to achieve out of the day?
2) How exclusive do you want your tour to be? There are some boats that take up to 60 people out at a time. It's crowded, rushed and you won't see as much with all that human activity. Though, this is usually the cheaper option. If you want a less crowded, greater experience, choose a company that takes less people at one time, usually costing a little bit more.
3) Do you want to go all day or just a half day? What's your schedule like? Can you fit in an entire 8am-6pm day of sea, sand and sun? If not, there's plenty of half day tours, that still allow a great experience!
4) Are They Eco-Friendly? Is your tour conserving or destroying the reef? Be sure to look into how the company runs and how it treats it's primary source of income. Put your money towards the good of tomorrow.

Snorkelling around Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef

Do You Have To Wear The Stinger Suits?

Stinger suits are thin, black, full-body wet suits. These are handed out on all cruises in The Great Barrier Reef. Due to the weather, and position of the Great Barrier Reef, winds push jellyfish into the shore. This is known as 'Stinger Season' and depending on your location, it usually runs from November to May. These jellyfish have very potent venom and sting like hell! Due to the numbers of them, it's extremely hard to avoid them while swimming. The stinger suits cover all of your skin, except for your face. This way, even if you swim into one, you won't get stung. They're not very fashionable, but they are free and comfortable. It's a much better option than the alternative.

How Much Does It Cost To Go Scuba Diving On The Great Barrier Reef?

Prices vary depending on your tour company, but my short 20 minute dive was around $100 (a special birthday treat to myself).
Our day trip on board Ocean Spirit Cruises was around $200 each. 
It completely depends on how long you will be diving, your previous experience and gear hire.
For every person entering the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area, there is an $6.50 Government Environmental Management Charge (EMC) to be paid at the docks.

Looking back at Michaelmas Cay after scuba diving
Colourful clams and coral of the Great Barrier Reef

The Future Of Our Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is unfortunately also facing huge environmental issues. Some parts are already gone. When picking a tour, try and go with a tour that is the most eco-friendly and sustainable in your budget. Many tours congregate around large central barges, that have now made the reef around them perish. This intense human activity from hundreds of people a day on the reef is the simple cause. Bleaching, erosion and decline in species numbers are all caused by us. To maintain Australia's greatest natural wonder, and to ensure it is around in the future, we need to consider our actions. Think about where your money is going, and what it is funding. If your tour does not care about the reef it is making millions of dollars from, then do not get on board.

Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef Australia
Nesting Birds on Michaelmas Cay

Why We Chose Ocean Spirit Cruises Cairns

Ocean Spirit Cruises ticked all of the boxes for us, when looking for a reef-friendly tour. Reducing the impact of our time there was clearly a priority.
- Small Tour Group. They only take a maximum of 150 people at a time
- Exclusivity. The island we visit, Michaelmas Cay, is exclusive to Ocean Spirit Cruises. 
- Conservation of the environment. Majority of the island is fenced off, with only about 10% available for humans to walk on. Allowing for a great conservation area for the 20,000 breeding birds on the island. We also only had a very small, roped off area we could snorkel in. Again reducing our impact on the environment.
- Value for money. The amount of food and activities that were included in the day made every dollar we spent worth it!

Ocean Spirit Cruises are a great tour company to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef
Taking a selfie on board Ocean Spirit Cruises at Michaelmas Cay

What Did Ocean Spirit Provide?

We were each given a lycra stinger suit, snorkel and mask, flippers and mountains of food all day long.
They even had prescription masks! Oh my gosh, my life has changed and I never want to go back. I find contact lenses quite tricky, so usually whenever I'm in the water, I'm completely blind. Owning a pair of prescription googles has been on my when-I'm-rich-and-can-afford-luxurious-things list for years! As the staff member handed me my fandangle number 2.0 goggles, I was like a little kid being handed a bike for the first time - excited, jumping up and down, can't wait to take it out for a test drive, all with a gigantically stupid smile on my face! And boy did it make a difference! I could see everything! Everything felt closer, brighter and all round greater! Thank you very much Ocean Spirit for making my dreams come true!

School of fish swimming through the clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef

Our Experience On The Great Barrier Reef with Ocean Spirit Cruises

We woke to a glorious day of sunshine and clear skies. Maybe there was a certain magic to it, being my birthday, but I found it perfect. We drove from Palm Cove to Cairns docks and made our way to the terminal. The docks were crowded! People, tours, families and staff all excited for the day ahead. We got our prepaid tickets and headed down to our boat. It was huge! I couldn't believe this was still classed as a Catamaran! The mast was extraordinarily high, looking unstable but mighty all at once.

We hopped on board and were greeted by smiling staff and morning tea - hells yes!
I was blown away by how many staff members there were on board. It made me instantly feel safe and that our experiences were genuinely taken into consideration, to be the best they could possibly be! All staff members made us feel welcome, almost like being welcomed on board a friends vessel.

We set sail! Leaving the docks at 8:30am, and saying goodbye to Cairns. Racing other tour boats with waving, enthusiastic tourists as they became smaller and smaller colourful dots in the distance. There was only ocean. Nothing but beautiful blues, the sea and sky morphing as one on the horizon. Pulling up a chair, we relaxed and enjoyed the gentle ride. Not a care in the world! It was nice to have nothing else to do but enjoy the presentness of the journey.

Nearing our stop, a Marine Biologist explained to us the sea creatures we would encounter. Showing pictures on a large screen, he explained their behaviours, names and how we could gain the most out of our day. The Rabbit Fish particularly stood out as an interesting specimen to me. It's behaviour of living in pairs, sharing feeding and guard duties, seemed so awesome that I put it down in my mental list of fish I wanted to see that day.

Our boat arrived at our destination, Michaelmas Cay. This small sandy island is a breeding spot for multiple colonies of sea birds. We'd chosen this tour because the island was exclusive. There were no other boats or groups and we seemed to be in the middle of the ocean, not another thing in site. As we anchored in for the day, staff members threw out bait and soon enough we had a huge school of assorted fish all around the boat. HUGE Golden Trevally, darted around in the clear waters.  

We geared up and headed onto the first boat over to the island. The island was covered in birds! It was incredible! Hundreds of different species of nests, eggs and babies, all together. The island is extremely significant to many of these birds breeding patterns. This has been recognised by officials and there are fences and signs all around the island, informing people to leave the birds alone.

The sand was smooth and white. I almost needed sunglass goggles, with the beaming white light all around. Stepping into the water, we got our flippers on and swam out. Instantly there was fish all around me! It was a bit shocking to have them that close to me straight away, but absolutely incredible! We swam out to the reef surrounding the island and were greatly impressed by the rainbow that welcomed us. Coral, clams, stingrays, fish, fish and fish! The diversity was heartwarming. We followed parrotfish and swam down to watch them munching on the coral. You could actually hear them crunching! Such an unusual and unexpected sound to hear while swimming around.

 

Fish swimming over my legs
Glass bottom boat around Michaelmas Cay

After about an hour, we headed back to shore, for my scuba diving session. Curtis hasn't Scuba Dived before so he headed back to the main Catamaran for some lunch. They suited me up, took me through all the important safety procedures and off we went! Myself and one other guest had a professional diving instructor with us. The feeling of slowly walking further and further into the water, with metres above your head, is really special. Slowly breathing and watching things come into view is such a journey! We encountered Barracuda, stingrays, hundreds of neon fish, sea cucumbers and the cutest baby jellyfish I've ever seen! 
The coral walls around me, water above and no sounds but the slight whooshing of the current... Can I scuba dive everyday? We headed towards a dark shadow, it was the underneath of our boat. As we rose up the 15 metres to the surface, the school of huge fish were still patrolling above our heads. Swimming up into the middle of this school was an awesome feeling! Like a scene from the little mermaid... though nowhere near as graceful. 

I clambered back on board and lunch was waiting for me. A large array of asian dishes and fresh salads - perfect post swimming fuel. There was one last goodie for the glorious afternoon - A ride in the glass bottom boat. We hopped onboard and went down some stairs, the boat shaped like a half submerged submarine. It was really cool getting this perspective of the coral, we'd just been swimming above.

Afternoon tea was the closing point of our time at Michaelmas Cay. Waving goodbye to the birds and marine life, we sailed back towards Cairns. An hour and a half of relaxation made for a perfect afternoon. As we docked at 5:30pm, Sparkling wine with cheese and biscuits was brought out! A celebration of such a beautiful day!
Can I celebrate every glorious day like this? Surely it fits into my diet somewhere?


This is not a sponsored post. We genuinely enjoyed every moment on board the Ocean Spirit cruise. The staff, the food, the activities and location all made for a perfect day on The Great Barrier Reef. The value for money was spectacular, making it easy for me to highly recommend this snorkelling tour for your next trip to Cairns.


 

6 Comments

  1. Enjoyed reading about you fun day trip and looking at your wonderful pictures. I love snorkeling and this sounds like it would be a perfect thing for us to do one day. Thank you for sharing. Happy travels.

  2. Awesome post – it looks like you had an amazing time! I love how detailed this guide is – you covered ALL of the questions I’ve had about scuba diving. It’s great that you mentioned the importance of travelling the Great Barrier Reef sustainably, too!

  3. Wonderful photos of what must be a wonderful experience! I would definitely wear the stinger suit, though! I’d love to try this sometime.

  4. This was such an useful guide as I head to Australia next month and although I agree it is definitely a bucket list must do I am so nervous!! I have never scuba dived before (I only tried snorkelling for the first time in Fiji last month) but really appreciate your recommendations, hopefully I get as stunning images as you did!

  5. Thanks for this informative post! Scuba diving is a bucket list item, let along in the Great Barrier Reef! It’s so sad to hear of the environmental issue the reef is facing, glad to hear there are eco-friendly tours out there.

  6. Looks like a memorable experience! And good point about choosing a more eco-friendly tour operator. I’m sure there are a few companies that just want to get your $$$ without caring about the planet unfortunately.

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