A clownfish among the anemone, taken while diving the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Shutterstock)
List Words : Phoebe Smith | 03 July 2019

9 simple ways travellers can protect the Great Barrier Reef

You may be worried about visiting the Great Barrier Reef, wondering if it's damaging the environment. Fortunately, a trip (and a few small gestures) can help rather than hinder, says Phoebe Smith...

1. Choose your excursions carefully

(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

There are a whole number of methods to visit the Great Barrier Reef: commercial boats that visit large floating pontoons, glass bottom boat tours, helicopter rides, semi-submersibles, liveaboard dive vessels and sea kayaking adventures.

However you go, ensure the company you choose is an eco-certified operator. If so, they will have accreditation by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. If this is not advertised on their website ask them and demand to see proof.

2. Take your own reusable bottle

Some of Wanderlust's tried-and-tested reusable bottles (Product Websites)

Some of Wanderlust's tried-and-tested reusable bottles (Product Websites)

Sure, simply shunning the single-use plastic bottle won’t save the world overnight, but it will certainly help. As we’ve seen on recent TV shows, plastic bottles are washing up on shores all over the world.

So, ensure you take a reusable with you. For travel, aim for one with a filter so that you can refill it anywhere you find yourself, safely.

See our tried-and-tested reusable water bottle choices

3. Take photos

The Coral Watch Colour Chart (Coral Watch)

The Coral Watch Colour Chart (Coral Watch)

Not just to make those still at home green with envy, but to also help the scientists trying to protect the reef do their vital research. 

If you notice bleaching, rubbish issues, crown of stars (who destroy coral) or malpractice from an operator then take photos and video and upload to sites such as CoralWatch and the Eye on the Reef App.

After all, knowledge is power and if they don’t know it’s happening they can’t help solve the problem.

4. Don't touch

A starfish amongst the coral of the Great Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

A starfish amongst the coral of the Great Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

It should go without saying, but you’d be amazed how many people can’t resist reaching out to feel coral with their fingers – with some even going so far as to break pieces off to take home as a souvenir.

Quite simply don’t do it, and if you see someone else doing it, say something. And in shops avoid buying anything made with coral. The reef is certainly beautiful, but is best enjoyed where it belongs – as part of a thriving underwater ecosystem.

5. Go for reef-safe sunscreen

Whitsunday Island (Shutterstock)

Whitsunday Island (Shutterstock)

Did you know that 14,000 TONS of sunscreen ends up in the world’s reefs every single year, causing mass damage?

The chemical that causes problems is oxybenzone, which exasperates fragile sections of coral and can even cause bleaching. You can’t buy products that contain it in Australia, but be wary if purchasing pre-trip.

6. Go easy on the fish

A clownfish in the Great Barrier Reef (Shutterstock)

A clownfish in the Great Barrier Reef (Shutterstock)

Yes, it’s natural to want to sample some of the local flavours, but overfishing is a massive problem, not just in Australia but in all our oceans.

So, when you are tempted to try it, make sure it’s sourced sustainably. This can be checked at Sustainable Seafood's official website.

7. Cut your carbon emissions

Flying over the Great Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

Flying over the Great Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

Before you leave on your Australian adventure, you can take steps to offset your carbon emissions.

The World Land Trust has a great calculator to work out how much you'd pay to make up for the long flight. Then, you simply make a donation, which is used to buy tracts of land around the world at risk of deforestation.

You can also opt instead to plant trees (try Carbon Footprint or, for businesses, Trees For Life). Then, when you arrive try not to rely on cars – take public transport or better yet walk if feasible.

8. Just go and see it

The wonder of the Great Barrier Reef still can't be missed (Shutterstock)

The wonder of the Great Barrier Reef still can't be missed (Shutterstock)

For every visit you make to the reef, a levy is given to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the organisation that helps protect and study the reef.

So, by not going, you’re essentially hitting their budget hard. Take your awe-inspiring trip guilt-free, and you'll be helping in a small way to protect one of the world's most vital living organisms.

9. Share the wonder of the reef

A turtle dives into the reef from Lady Elliot Island (Shutterstock)

A turtle dives into the reef from Lady Elliot Island (Shutterstock)

Visiting the reef not only sees some of your holiday money go directly to helping support it, but you also can help share the love and get others to want to protect it, too.

Use social media to post photos or even send a postcard to family and friends. If people see how amazing it is, they’ll want to help – all doom and gloom does is make people apathetic and feel like they can’t make a difference, when they really can.

Enjoyed this article? Get the best of Wanderlust delivered straight to your inbox

Follow Team Wanderlust