The 10 Best Ecotourism Experiences in The Great Barrier Reef

Breathtaking Heron Island Resort
Breathtaking Heron Island Resort | Courtesy of Heron Island Resort

It’s well-known around the world that the Great Barrier Reef is currently under threat from factors such as climate change, coastal development, poor water quality, and overfishing. The best thing visitors can do when exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site is to focus on ecotourism. From eco resorts to eco tour companies, these are the best ecotourism options you can experience on the Great Barrier Reef.

1. Pumpkin Island

Eco Hotel, Cabin

Aerial view of Pumpkin Island
© Pumpkin Island

Located 14 kilometres (9 miles) off the coast of Yeppoon in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Pumpkin Island is a remote eco-friendly island resort surrounded by brilliant marine life. The island is privately-owned and has five self-contained beach cottages. Its eco initiatives include solar and wind power for electricity, filtered rainwater for drinking, and solar-powered gas hot water systems. Pumpkin Island is Australia’s first and only carbon positive inhabited island, and amazingly offsets 150% of its annual carbon emissions. If you want to live like a celebrity for a weekend, there’s the option of renting the entire island too.

Ocean Safari

Cape Tribulation is known for being a gateway to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Ocean Safari is Advanced Ecotourism Certified, and Global Sustainable Tourism Council-approved. The company does half-day snorkelling tours to Mackay and Undine Reefs, which are only a 25-minute boat ride off the coast. Visitors can snorkel alongside sea turtles, eagle rays, and an array of tropical fish.

Ocean Safari, Cape Tribulation Road, Cape Tribulation, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4098 0006

A happy Ocean Safari customer on the Great Barrier Reef

Quicksilver Group

The Quicksilver Group operates out of Port Douglas and Cairns. Its companies include Green Island Resort, Quicksilver Cruises, Poseidon Cruises, Ocean Spirit Cruises, Pro Dive Cairns, and Wavedancer Low Isle Cruises. As the leading Great Barrier Reef tourism company, Quicksilver Group experiences include Outer Barrier Reef and island adventures, snorkelling day trips, and premier liveaboard dive boat trips. It has also been certified as a Climate Action Innovator, which means Quicksilver Group is proactively reducing its emissions and auditing its carbon footprint.

2. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort

Resort, Eco Hotel

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
© Ian Cochrane / Flickr

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and its surrounding reef is located in a Great Barrier Reef protected Green Zone, which means it’s home to an abundance of marine life. This includes green sea turtles and manta rays. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort says its goal is for guests to take home more than photos and memories, but a willingness to join in the fight “for conservation and sustainable management of our environment and natural resources.” The eco resort also hopes to be 100% sustainable by 2020.

3. Heron Island Resort

Resort, Eco Hotel

Heron Island Resort
Courtesy of Heron Island Resort

Heron Island Resort is an eco-friendly and remote slice of tropical paradise on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a guests-only island, with television-free rooms and no mobile phone reception. Guests can step off the beach and go snorkelling, or check out one of the 20 dive sites surrounding Heron Island. Turtles return annually to lay their eggs, and whales can be spotted from the shores in June. As well as being an Advanced Ecotourism Certified resort, the Heron Island Research Station is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest island-based research station. Guests can visit for a daily tour, where they can get up close to many reef animals.

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht is fully committed to sustainable tourism and providing its customers with the best ecotourism experience in the Whitsundays. Their entire fleet of yachts, catamarans, and motor cruisers have ecotourism reference materials on board, which includes a Marine Park zoning map, safe snorkelling and fishing guide, walking track information, and factsheets on marine species and public moorings and anchoring.

Whitsunday Rent a Yacht, 6 Bay Terrace, Shute Harbour, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4946 9232

Green Island

Green Island is located off the coast of Cairns. Green Island Resort is one of the world’s most eco-sensitive. It received its Advanced Ecotourism Certification “for preservation and commitment to the island’s rain forest and reef surrounds.” The island is surrounded by shallow reef, so you can step off the shoreline and snorkel immediately on the Great Barrier Reef. Alternatively, Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises is an eco-certified company that offers several Green Island day trip options from Cairns.

Green Island, QLD, Australia

An aerial view of Green Island

4. Lizard Island Resort

Resort, Eco Hotel

Private plunge pool at Lizard Island Resort
© Delaware North / Lizard Island Resort

Lizard Island Resort is fully committed to “protecting, nurturing and maintaining the critical balance between the resort and the diverse ecosystem of Lizard Island and its surrounding waters.” The remote resort is only accessible via a one-hour flight from Cairns. With 24 maximum guests at any time, this is definitely the most luxurious ecotourism experience on the Great Barrier Reef. Guests can go snorkelling off the shore or visit Cod Hole, a world-renowned dive site where divers can swim beside curious potato cods.

Reef Magic Cruises

Reef Magic Cruises is passionate about reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging their customers to tackle climate change as well. From Cairns, they offer a day trip to Marine World, a platform located on the Great Barrier Reef. At Marine World, activity options include snorkelling, fish feeding with a marine biologist, glass bottom boat tours, scuba diving, helmet diving, and even scenic reef helicopter flights. Reef Magic Cruises also offers charters to Fitzroy and Green Islands, and the outer Great Barrier Reef.

Reef Magic Cruises, 1 Spence Street, Cairns, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4031 1588

Adrenalin Snorkel & Dive

Based in Townsville, Adrenalin Snorkel & Dive does day trips and liveaboards to the Great Barrier Reef and SS Yongala Wreck dive site. The company works with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Conservation groups, and researchers to educate the community on the importance of protecting the reef. Their liveaboard dive trips are the only ones from Townsville, which take divers to world famous dive sites around the central Great Barrier Reef.

Adrenalin Snorkel & Dive, 66 Perkins Street W, Railway Estate, QLD, Australia, +61 7 4724 0600

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