A Coral Sea Safari On The Great Barrier Reef

Benjamin Jones

Composed of 900 islands and over 2,900 individual reefs the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system.

Covering an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres the reef is larger than the Great Wall of China and is the only living thing on the planet that can be seen from space.

Built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps the reef supports a huge ecosystem that impacts much of the marine life around the globe.

Scientists are discovering new species and beginning to understand just how vital the living reef is to the world as we know it. With climate change and over fishing threatening to alter the balance of life on the reef, the Australian government have stepped in turning much of the area into a Marine Park.

However some fear that lasting damage has already started to affect the surrounding ecosystems.


coral sea safari on the great barrier reef

Formed over the past 20,000 years as sea levels steadily rose the coral has gradually invaded the submerged land forming a varied underwater reef landscape.

Supporting a huge diversity of life including many species that are endangered or endemic to the reef the list of inhabitants are endless, thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef, including the dwarf minke whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, and the humpback whale.

The larger mammals are drawn to the area by over 1,500 fish species that live on the reef, including the clownfish, red bass, red-throat emperor, and several species of snapper and coral trout.

Large populations of Dugongs inhabit the coast as well as six species of sea turtles and salt water crocodiles. Around 125 species of shark, stingray, skates or chimaera can be found throughout the year feeding on close to 5,000 species of mollusc including the giant clam, various nudibranchs and cone snails.

Forty-nine species of pipefish and nine species of seahorse have been spotted and I’m afraid here is where my statistics must end. I think it is now evident just how incredible this marine environment really is.


coral sea safari on the great barrier reef

Having spent three months training to achieve a PADI Dive Master qualification during my six month stay in Costa Rica in 2011 I am always keen to put my training to good use and get my head under the water.

After much research into the best live aboard and area of the reef to dive lady luck landed me a volunteering position on the dive deck of Mike Ball’s Coral Sea Safari on the Great Barrier Reef; a 7 day adventure north into the unspoilt Ribbon Reefs, and the out into the Coral Sea to the Osprey and Shark Reefs 85km from the shore.

The opportunity to dive some of the best reefs in the world while gaining dive deck experience on a 5 star live aboard was something I’d been working towards since gaining my qualification.

The trip itself was spectacular, I am having a hard time trying to describe the calibre of diving that I experienced, with visibility upwards of 40 meters, ocean drop off’s, coral caves, swim through’s and bommies on the reef and out in the coral sea it is like nothing I have ever seen.

The first day of the trip takes you to the world famous Cod Hole home to the infamous Potato Cod (Queensland Grouper) where the inhabitants are often larger than your dive buddy, with big beady eyes that watch you with interest the underwater introduction set my heart racing.

From there you head up the Ribbon Reefs and over night to Osprey Reef just over 84km from the shore, waking up on the open ocean you are rewarded for your long journey with gin clear water and incredible underwater scenery.

In areas the reef drops away to over 100m and consequently creatures of the deep often end up taking some time out in the warm shallows, sharks, rays, mantas and innumerable species of fish are all found at each dive site.


The stand out dive for me was the shark feed at North Horn on the Osprey Reef, again my head was screaming at me that being underwater with feeding sharks was probably not conducive to a health and safety party however my inquisitive nature forced me to sign the disclaimer and gear up for the dive.

The trip director gave a confident and thorough dive brief detailing the feeding procedure and assured us that no one had been attacked in the history of the companies operation, a somewhat comforting thought.

As we drifted down through the blue water we saw a huge school of bump head parrot fish cruising along the outer wall of the reef and as we neared the feeding area the dark shadows circling below came closer.


coral sea safari on the great barrier reef

Perched on a ledge at about 15m those brave enough to dive are rewarded with an incredible glimpse into the nature of one of the worlds great predators, white, black and silver tip reef sharks swarmed the area eager for their feed.

As the trip director checks to see that all the divers are calm and comfortable the feeder full of tuna heads is lowered from the boat above and the sharks frenzy around it, the feed that is attached to a chain and buoy is then released sending the sharks into a heated flurry.

They tear and swirl around the food in such a mesmerising fashion that your mind simply stops computing the nature of the situation and watches in awe.

I was surprised to see a gigantic potato cod attempting to join in the feed, it was almost comical to see a fish, however large, compete with the reef sharks for a morsel of tuna.


coral sea safari on the great barrier reef

The rest of the dive sites out at Osprey did not disappoint, descending to around 35m one morning we were treated to unbelievable visibility of 55m+ and watched two eagle rays float effortlessly along the reef wall.

The wealth of life both coral and fish is just incredible, we saw innumerable species of brightly coloured fish, eels, rays and sharks as well as beautiful macro life such a hermit crabs, pipefish and insanely coloured nudibranchs. With the sunlight beaming down through the water it was almost as though the reef had been freshly painted for our arrival.

Back within the relatively calm waters of the Barrier Reef we were treated to some incredible sights along the Ribbon Reefs, Pixie Gardens, Snake Pit and out at Steve’s Bommie. Again I fear words just wont measure up to the stunning images that Ben captured on his underwater camera, so I shall simply submerge you in the visual delights of the Great Barrier Reef.

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Have you seen the diverse inhabitants of the Great Barrier Reef up close? We’d love for you to share your experiences with me below.

Travel Blogger & Photographer
  1. I read this with fascination and a touch of fear! The idea of being down there panics me abit but I think I would work through that to see such sights.

    So, what were your volunteer duties?

    1. Thanks for your comment Forest. I’m sure you’d be fine. The sight is just so awe inspiring that panic is the last thing that crosses your mind.

      We worked on the dive deck and so were charged with preparing the deck, keeping it tidy, assisting clients with their gear and helping people in and out of the water. Although the duties were not particularly taxing a good knowledge of dive theory and equipment is essential so a minimum qualification of Divemaster is required. If you are not yet a DM there are opportunities to work as hospitality crew. Both are a great way to experience some incredible diving on a budget.

      I hope you get out there one day!

      Spread the wanderlust!

  2. I am so impressed with your photos. And what a fantastic experience. All your hard work in Costa Rica paid off. I did a shark feed once – just snorkeling in Rangiroa and despite the company’s assurances felt rather intimidated with so many sharks circling me.

    1. Thanks Leigh, I had similar reservations regarding the shark dive but just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to see some ocean predators up close.

    1. We left from Cairns aboard Mike Ball’s Spoilsport vessel. It really was an incredible trip.

    1. They are actually very docile and quite accustomed to divers. One actually swam through Ben’s hands!

      I am terrified of snakes and had to give myself a pep talk before diving in! I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to see them. even though it was slightly terrifying! I was constantly checking behind to make sure there wasn’t one following me!!

  3. I was just looking into Great Barrier Reef liveaboards this week, so this post was perfect! Thank you so much for all the information.

    And may I say: you are an AMAZING underwater photographer — those shots are simply UNREAL! WOW, I can’t wait to see all these beautiful creatures myself!

    -Maria Alexandra

    1. Thanks Maria. We bought some new underwater kit so it was a great opportunity to try it out.

      If you’re thinking of heading out on a live aboard you should definitely check out the Mike Ball volunteer programme. We saved over AUD$6000 each for 14 days of incredible diving!

  4. Wow those photos are amazing! I’ve only been scuba diving once (in Greece) but have always wanted to in the GBR! Hopefully some day I will!

  5. The Great Barrier Reef has long been on my to do list. Although I’m not a diver, I’m sure there’s plenty to see for a snorkeler like me. Beautiful photos!

    1. Thanks Donna. There are so many opportunities to explore the reef. There are a few pontoons that provide the opportunity to snorkel out on the ribbon reefs so don;t worry that you’re not a diver. Although it would be a great place to get certified!!

  6. Stunning photos! I love the one of the sharks–that sounds like such an amazing experience. Sharks are so intriguing, I would love to do a dive like this!

  7. OMG, Charli, you’re KILLING me here! I’m not normally the jealous type, but diving the GB Reef is pretty high up on my dream trip list, and also on the least attainable dream trips given our current budget. Dying to know how you guys get such great underwater photos…

  8. Stunning photos as always guys! Would you believe 25 years of living in Australia and yet to visit the Barrier Reef! Thanks for the reminder to get my act together!!

  9. The pictures u paint with words and a camera are beautiful beyond belief. I have been dreaming of scube there since I was a kid and i’m slowly getting closer to it! Residing in Melbourne atmo so only a metaphorical stones throw now till I can tick this off my bucket list! Thank you very much for sharing and inspiring.

  10. Those photos are amazing! You did that just by using underwater housing?

    I really need to get my diving certificate so I can experience this for myself. Snorkeling has always been great, but this doesn’t seem to compare.

  11. Wow Charli!

    I must tell you that your GBR post has really inspired my wife and I to go out and experience it firsthand! We are from San Antonio, Texas, and have no diving experience and no camera gear. You had mentioned getting your dive masters certification prior to doing the diving you accomplished @ GBR? How long did it take and how much? What kind of camera gear do u recommend for either the best or decent underwater photos? Obviously one with underwater housing. We have never centered outside the U.S. other than the Bahamas for our honeymoon. @ our stay there we did see some coral reef and my wife’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree as she explained to me her deep knowledge of salt water fish, coral/polyps etc. it was then I knew I have to take her someday.

    We plan on going soon, but don’t know much about when the best time to visit is. Hotels near GBR, the best route where u were @ and all the ins and out…lol…I know it sounds like much to ask but after doing research of the GBR, we noticed that a lot of the GBR environment has reduced to nearly half of its natural beauty since 1985, as we saw pictures of dead coral and species due to the harmful UV sun rays and warmer climates/ bottom feeders. Anyways, again, any information would be appreciated. It’s amazing how much this GBR post has had an effect on us all as this trip is on so MANY bucket lists.

    The Macias’s from San Antonio. GO Spurs!!

    1. Hi Alex, Thanks for such a great comment. I’m so pleased we’ve helped to inspire your trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

      Regarding our Divemaster certification, we trained in Costa Rica. It took us 3 months of 6 days a week at the dive shop. We spent around $1500 and worked part time in the shop to subsidise the costs of all our certifications but you can opt for a 6 month internship which negates all costs, and alternatively pay in full and reduce the need for internships. I’d recommend you chat to your local dive operation, or one in the location you hope to train to find out what deals they offer. Note that you need a minimum of 60 dives and the Rescue Diver certification before you can begin your Divemaster Training. Check out our post covering scuba certiifications here → https://wanderlusters.com/padi-divemaster-training-guide/

      In terms of our experience diving the Great Barrier Reef I’ll forward some suggestions to you via email. There’s far too much to put down here in the comment!

      Chat soon, Charli

  12. Everytime I see spectacular underwater photos like these, it makes me wish I could overcome my fear of the ocean and just get my PADI – maybe one day!

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