Is It Ethical To Visit Australia's Great Barrier Reef?

© Aliya Ghare / Culture Trip
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer27 March 2018

In recent years, the Great Barrier Reef has unfortunately been making headlines for the wrong reasons. Thanks to pollution, climate change, and overfishing, the UNESCO World Heritage Site off the coast of Australia is under threat. So is it still ethical to visit the Great Barrier Reef? It is, but there are steps visitors can take to ensure the reef is still around for future generations.

Why is the Great Barrier Reef in danger?

There are three main factors threatening the Great Barrier Reef today. Firstly, climate change has led to extreme weather, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching. When ocean temperatures rise too much, coral expels the algae living in its tissue, which causes the coral to become white (or bleached). The second major threat to the Great Barrier Reef is pollution and poor water quality from coastal development, as well as urban, land, and farm run-off. This can lead to crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Finally, illegal fishing, poaching, and overfishing have been impacting the reef for decades.

Coral bleaching around Heron Island | © Oregon State University / Flickr

Sustainable ways to save the Great Barrier Reef

The Australian and Queensland governments’ joint Reef 2050 Plan was established to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s health. The $2 billion investment is already showing results, as 29 of the plan’s 151 intended actions have been accomplished. Along with avoiding overfishing, rerouting boats, and decreasing land-based runoff, sustainable tourism is the best way visitors can help the Great Barrier Reef. Ecotourism is definitely a buzzword that has been circling around the travel industry recently. But in terms of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s more important than ever to visit the reef through an eco-friendly tourism company or resort.

Snorkel with turtles at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort | © Ian Cochrane / Flickr

From Port Douglas, check out Quicksilver Cruises and its various eco-friendly tour options. Alternatively, snorkel and dive the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs with eco-certified Poseidon Cruises. Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises has its advanced ecotourism certification from Ecotourism Australia. Green Island is a great reef day trip option from Cairns. Reef Magic Cruises is a Cairns-based alternative, which takes visitors to the Marine World activity platform on the outer Great Barrier Reef. They are also eco-certified, and have several practices in place to protect the reef.

Great Barrier Reef | © Ryan McMinds / Flickr

Many of the 190 tropical islands along the Great Barrier Reef are also working to save the Great Barrier Reef. Heron Island has its Advanced Eco-Certification, and is home to the largest island-based research station in the Southern Hemisphere. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort aims to be fully sustainable by 2020. As it’s located in a protected Green Zone, the island’s surrounding reef is home to manta rays, turtles, and over 1,200 marine life species. Meanwhile, Bedarra Island Resort is Australia’s most sustainable island resort, and Lizard Island Resort is another eco-friendly resort.

Lizard Island | © Fotoaray / Shutterstock

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has an excellent resource on responsible reef practices, which is a must-read before visiting this natural wonder. Even making simple changes in your everyday life, such as offsetting your carbon footprint, will inevitably help protect the Great Barrier Reef.

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