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How Travellers Can Help Protect The Great Barrier Reef


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Iormina Smedley



Welcome to the breathtaking realm of the Great Barrier Reef! This natural wonder, located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is a sprawling ecosystem that stretches over 2,300 kilometers (1,430 miles). It is the world’s largest coral reef system, housing an incredible array of marine life and providing invaluable ecological services.


However, the Great Barrier Reef is facing numerous challenges that threaten its existence. Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and an increase in tourism activities are all placing immense pressure on this fragile ecosystem. As visitors and travelers, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve this iconic reef for future generations to cherish.


This article aims to highlight the importance of the Great Barrier Reef, discuss the threats it faces, and provide valuable insights and practical actions that travelers can take to help protect this natural wonder. By embracing sustainable travel practices and making conscious choices, we can contribute to the conservation and sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef.


Understanding the Importance of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is not just an exquisite natural wonder; it plays a vital role in the overall health of the planet. Here are a few reasons why this incredible ecosystem is so important:

  • Biodiversity Hotspot: The Great Barrier Reef is home to a staggering variety of species, including over 1,500 fish species, 411 hard coral species, and countless other marine organisms. It is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and provides habitat for endangered species such as sea turtles, dugongs, and many species of sharks.
  • Economic Value: The reef is a significant contributor to the Australian economy, generating billions of dollars through tourism, fishing, and scientific research. It supports thousands of jobs and brings in visitors from around the world, providing important income for local communities.
  • Carbon Sink: Coral reefs are incredibly efficient at sequestering carbon dioxide, helping to mitigate climate change. The Great Barrier Reef absorbs millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year, making it a crucial natural asset in the fight against global warming.
  • Ecosystem Services: The reef provides essential ecosystem services, such as shoreline protection against storm surges and erosion. The intricate coral structures act as natural barriers, reducing the impact of waves and protecting coastal communities.
  • Cultural Significance: For the Indigenous peoples of Australia, the reef holds immense cultural significance. It is a living connection to their ancestral lands, providing spiritual, cultural, and traditional benefits.

Understanding the importance of the Great Barrier Reef is fundamental in fostering a sense of responsibility for its protection. By recognizing its value beyond its sheer beauty, we can better appreciate the urgency and necessity of taking action to safeguard this precious ecosystem.


Threats to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef faces a multitude of threats that put its delicate ecosystem at risk. These threats have escalated in recent years and pose significant challenges to the long-term survival of the reef. Here are some of the primary threats:

  • Climate Change: Rising sea temperatures resulting from climate change have led to coral bleaching events, where corals expel the colorful algae living within them. This causes the corals to turn white, indicating stress and potential death.
  • Pollution: Pollution from land-based sources, such as agricultural runoff, coastal development, and industrial activities, can introduce excess nutrients and pollutants into the reef ecosystem. This can lead to harmful algal blooms, coral diseases, and overall degradation of water quality.
  • Overfishing and Destructive Fishing Practices: Unsustainable fishing practices, such as overfishing and the use of destructive fishing methods like blast fishing or cyanide fishing, can have devastating impacts on the reef’s fish populations, disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem, and damage coral habitats.
  • Tourism Pressure: The growth in tourism activities, if not properly managed, can lead to physical damage to the reef from activities like anchoring, snorkeling and diving impacts, and pollution from tourist boats. Additionally, the increased demand for services and infrastructure can place strain on the local environment and communities.
  • Invasive Species: Invasive species, such as the crown-of-thorns starfish, pose a significant threat to the reef. These species can rapidly multiply and feed on the corals, causing extensive damage to the reef ecosystem.

It is crucial to acknowledge these threats and address them effectively to ensure the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef. Through collective action and responsible travel practices, we can mitigate these threats and help protect this extraordinary natural wonder for generations to come.


Steps for Travellers to Protect the Great Barrier Reef

As visitors to the Great Barrier Reef, we have the power to make a positive impact and contribute to its preservation. Here are some essential steps that travellers can take to protect this magnificent ecosystem:

  • Choose Environmentally-Friendly Tour Operators and Accommodations: Look for tour operators and accommodations that prioritize sustainable practices. Consider operators with eco-certifications and those that adhere to responsible snorkeling and diving guidelines. Support businesses that minimize their environmental footprint and prioritize the conservation of the reef.
  • Practice Responsible Snorkeling and Diving: When snorkeling or diving, be mindful of your impacts on the reef. Avoid touching or standing on the corals, as this can cause significant damage. Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect your skin without harming the marine life. Maintain a respectful distance from wildlife and never chase or harass marine creatures.
  • Reduce Your Personal Footprint on the Reef: Conserve water and energy by being mindful of your usage. Dispose of trash properly and avoid single-use plastics. Bring your reusable water bottle and bags, and opt for eco-friendly products whenever possible. Minimize your carbon footprint by choosing sustainable transportation options and participating in carbon offset programs.
  • Support Conservation Efforts and Research: Contribute to organizations dedicated to the conservation and research of the Great Barrier Reef. Your donations and volunteer efforts can help fund critical initiatives, such as coral restoration projects and scientific research. Stay informed about current conservation issues and support policies that protect the reef.
  • Respect and Appreciate Indigenous Culture: Understand and respect the cultural significance of the reef to the Indigenous communities. Learn about their traditions, stories, and connection to the land and sea. Engage in responsible cultural tourism activities that support Indigenous-owned businesses and promote cultural understanding.

By following these steps, travellers can actively participate in the protection and preservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Remember that every action, no matter how small, contributes to the overall conservation efforts. Together, we can ensure the long-term survival of this extraordinary natural wonder.


Choosing Environmentally-Friendly Tour Operators and Accommodations

One of the most important steps travellers can take to protect the Great Barrier Reef is to choose environmentally-friendly tour operators and accommodations. By supporting businesses that prioritize sustainable practices, you can contribute to the conservation of the reef. Here’s how to make an informed choice:

  • Look for Eco-Certifications: Check if the tour operator or accommodation has any legitimate eco-certifications. Certifications such as EarthCheck, Rainforest Alliance, or Green Globe indicate that the business has met certain environmental standards and is committed to sustainable practices. These certifications can be a good indicator of responsible operations.
  • Research Their Environmental Policies: Take the time to research the environmental policies of the tour operators and accommodations you are considering. Look for evidence of initiatives to reduce waste, conserve water and energy, and minimize the impact on the reef. Find companies that have a transparent commitment to sustainability and a clear action plan.
  • Consider their Conservation Efforts: Some tour operators actively contribute to the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef through conservation projects and education programs. Look for operators that support coral reef restoration, participate in marine debris clean-ups, or engage in research and monitoring activities. These operators are actively working towards the long-term health of the reef.
  • Assess Their Responsible Snorkeling and Diving Practices: Snorkeling and diving can have a direct impact on the reef if not done responsibly. Choose tour operators that provide guidelines and train their staff to ensure visitors adhere to responsible snorkeling and diving practices. This includes not touching corals or wildlife, maintaining a safe distance, and using reef-safe sunscreen.
  • Read Reviews and Seek Recommendations: Before booking a tour or accommodation, read reviews and seek recommendations from other travelers. Look for feedback regarding the company’s environmental responsibility and commitment to sustainable practices. Use online platforms and forums to gather insights and make an informed decision.

By choosing environmentally-friendly tour operators and accommodations, you are supporting businesses that prioritize the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Your choices can influence the industry and drive positive change in the way tourism operates in the region. Together, we can create a sustainable future where the reef can thrive for generations to come.


Practicing Responsible Snorkeling and Diving

When exploring the Great Barrier Reef through snorkeling and diving, it is important to do so responsibly to minimize our impact on the delicate ecosystem. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your underwater adventures contribute to the preservation of the reef:

  • Respect Marine Life and Habitat: Avoid touching, standing on, or removing any part of the reef. Corals are fragile organisms, and even the slightest touch can cause irreversible damage. Keep a safe distance from marine animals to avoid disturbing their natural behavior. Never harass or chase marine creatures.
  • Be Mindful of Your Fins and Equipment: Ensure your fins, snorkel, and diving gear do not come into contact with the reef. Maintain buoyancy control to minimize accidental contact. Use a reef hook or proper techniques to stabilize yourself without damaging the coral. Keep an eye on your gear to prevent it from getting tangled in the reef.
  • Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Chemicals found in many sunscreens can be harmful to marine life, including corals. Choose reef-safe sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, or other harmful chemicals. Opt for sun-protective clothing and seek shade when possible to further reduce the need for sunscreen.
  • Do Not Feed Marine Life: Feeding fish or other marine animals disrupts their natural feeding behaviors and can upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Avoid feeding marine life under any circumstances, as it can lead to dependency, aggression, and the spread of disease among the animals.
  • Practice Proper Buoyancy Control: Maintain proper buoyancy control to avoid unintentional contact with the reef, particularly when snorkeling or shallow diving. This will minimize the risk of accidental damage to the coral. If you are not confident in your buoyancy skills, consider taking a refresher course or opting for guided dives or snorkel tours.
  • Report Reef Damage or Suspected Illegal Activities: If you witness any form of reef damage or suspect illegal activities, such as anchoring on coral or collecting marine species, report it to the appropriate authorities. Your observations can help protect the reef and hold accountable those who contribute to its degradation.

By practicing responsible snorkeling and diving, we can experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef while ensuring its long-term health and vitality. Remember, we are merely visitors in this underwater paradise, and it is our responsibility to leave nothing but bubbles and memories behind.


Reducing Personal Footprint on the Reef

Reducing our personal footprint on the Great Barrier Reef is essential to minimize our impact on this fragile ecosystem. By adopting sustainable practices, we can help preserve the reef for future generations. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your personal footprint:

  • Conserve Water and Energy: Be mindful of your water and energy usage, both at your accommodation and during your activities. Take shorter showers, turn off lights and air conditioning when not in use, and reuse towels instead of requesting new ones daily. These small measures can significantly reduce your environmental impact.
  • Avoid Single-Use Plastics: Single-use plastics, such as water bottles, bags, and straws, contribute to the pollution of the reef and harm marine life. Bring your reusable water bottle, tote bag, and reusable straw to minimize the use of disposable items. Refuse plastic whenever possible and choose eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Dispose of Trash Properly: Always dispose of your trash responsibly, ensuring it goes into designated bins. If you can’t find a trash bin, hold onto your rubbish until you can dispose of it properly. Do not leave any trash behind during your snorkeling or diving adventures, as it can end up in the ocean and harm marine life.
  • Choose Sustainable Transportation: Consider sustainable transportation options when traveling to and around the Great Barrier Reef. Opt for public transportation or shared transportation services whenever possible. If you must rent a vehicle, choose an energy-efficient or hybrid model. Participate in carbon offset programs to mitigate the emissions from your travel.
  • Support Local and Sustainable Seafood: When dining, choose restaurants that serve sustainably-sourced seafood. Supporting sustainable fishing practices helps protect the reef and ensures the long-term viability of fish populations. Ask about the origin of the seafood and whether it comes from well-managed fisheries or sustainable aquaculture operations.
  • Participate in Coral Reef Restoration: Consider participating in coral reef restoration programs or volunteering with organizations dedicated to reef conservation. These initiatives involve activities such as coral planting and monitoring, helping regenerate damaged parts of the reef and contributing to its recovery.

Reducing your personal footprint on the Great Barrier Reef is an integral part of responsible travel. By adopting these sustainable practices, you can ensure that your visit leaves a positive impact and helps protect the reef’s delicate ecosystem.


Supporting Conservation Efforts and Research

Supporting conservation efforts and research is paramount to the protection and preservation of the Great Barrier Reef. By contributing to these initiatives, you can help ensure the long-term health and sustainability of this extraordinary ecosystem. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Donate to Conservation Organizations: Consider donating to reputable organizations that focus on the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. These funds can be used for vital projects such as coral restoration, marine debris clean-ups, and educational programs. Your contribution can make a significant difference in the ongoing efforts to protect the reef.
  • Volunteer for Conservation Activities: Many organizations offer volunteer programs that allow you to directly participate in reef conservation activities. Whether it’s coral monitoring, beach clean-ups, or marine wildlife research, your time and effort can have a positive impact on the reef’s health. Look for opportunities to volunteer during your visit to the region.
  • Join Citizen Science Projects: Citizen science projects involve volunteers in collecting data for scientific research. These projects play a crucial role in monitoring the health of the reef and providing valuable information for management and conservation efforts. Participate in projects such as reef health surveys or marine species monitoring.
  • Stay Informed and Educate Others: Stay updated on the latest research and conservation news related to the Great Barrier Reef. Attend educational events, read books and articles, and follow reputable organizations and scientists on social media. Share your knowledge with others and raise awareness about the importance of protecting this remarkable ecosystem.
  • Support Policies that Protect the Reef: Stay informed about environmental policies and support initiatives that contribute to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Stay engaged with local and national governments, voice your concerns, and advocate for strong legislation that safeguards the reef from climate change, pollution, and unsustainable practices.
  • Engage in Responsible Tourism: Choose tour operators and accommodations that actively support conservation and research efforts. Look for operators that offer educational programs or contribute a portion of their proceeds to reef conservation. By supporting these businesses, you are ensuring that a portion of your travel expenses directly contributes to the protection of the reef.

By supporting conservation efforts and research, you become an active participant in the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Your involvement provides crucial resources and contributes to the knowledge needed to make informed decisions for the reef’s conservation. Together, we can work towards securing a vibrant and thriving future for this iconic natural wonder.



The Great Barrier Reef is a remarkable natural treasure that requires our utmost care and protection. As responsible travelers, we have the power to play a significant role in preserving this invaluable ecosystem for future generations. By understanding its importance, recognizing the threats it faces, and taking concrete actions, we can make a positive impact on the Great Barrier Reef.


Choosing environmentally-friendly tour operators and accommodations is a vital step in supporting sustainability. By opting for businesses that prioritize responsible practices, we can contribute directly to the conservation of the reef and promote sustainable tourism. Practicing responsible snorkeling and diving ensures that our underwater adventures cause minimal disturbance to the delicate coral reefs and marine life.


Reducing our personal footprint on the reef is essential in curbing environmental degradation. Conserving water and energy, avoiding single-use plastics, and supporting sustainable transportation all contribute to the overall health of the reef and minimize our impact. Additionally, actively supporting conservation organizations, volunteering for reef-related activities, and participating in citizen science projects are powerful ways to contribute to ongoing conservation and research efforts.


In conclusion, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef requires collective efforts and a commitment to sustainable practices. By implementing the steps outlined in this article – from choosing eco-friendly operators to engaging in responsible snorkeling and reducing our personal footprint – we can ensure the preservation of this extraordinary wonder. Let us act now to safeguard the biodiversity, cultural significance, and ecosystem services of the Great Barrier Reef for current and future generations to enjoy.