In youth, I dreamed about exploring the Great Barrier Reef. As the world’s largest coral reef system, I marveled at how it was composed from over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. Thus, I couldn’t wait for the day to snorkel with colorful fish swimming amongst even more spectacular coral.
I felt this sentiment during the 1980’s, which was after the start of Earth Day remembrances but before the term environmentalist became controversial and partisan. This decade saw the Marine Plastic Pollution and Control Act (MARPOL) come into effect. But, it was before the Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed.
Finally in 1997, I got my chance to snorkel along the reef. Turns out, I had long lost cousins who lived in Sydney and Brisbane (located along the Sunshine Coast) and had been invited over for a visit. At last, I would be able to go to up the east coast Cairns and Port Douglas to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
In 1997, annual tourism numbers were 1.6m as compared to 2.4m in 2016. Back then, and as it continues today, the Great Barrier Reef experienced threats from coral bleaching, farm pollution, increased shipping traffic, overfishing and lack of governance.
From my perspective, the tourism experience in 1997 lacked focus on ecosystem education. Also, tour companies did not emphasize reef care via reef-friendly sunscreen use nor single-use plastic back then. Today though, the concept of marine conservation has changed for the better. In addition, volunteer projects run through organizations such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation have improved the ecosystem.
A Perfect Family Week on the Great Barrier Reef
Below, we’ve highlighted our favorite destinations for a perfect family vacation week:
- Sydney (Recommended 2 Days): Rich colonial heritage combined with robust contemporary architecture. To illustrate, take a behind-the-scenes tour of Sydney Opera House and climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. Later, visit the Botanical Gardens and Bondi Beach coastal walk.
- Greater Blue Mountains (Recommended 2+ Days): Get out of the city and explore the Blue Mountains with a stay on a private conservancy. During your stay, participate in conservation activities and be sure to treat yourself to the spa.
- Port Douglas (Recommended 2 Days): Nature and wildlife at its best. Specifically, you can select experiences such as specialist talks, star gazing, birding, and aboriginal talks.
- Daintree Rainforest (Recommended 2+ Days): Alas, you’ll wake up to the sound of the birds in the canopy above and take in the majesty of the ancient tropical wilderness. Then, participate in a myriad of activities include river snorkeling, fishing, horse riding, and art workshops.