Australia // Coastal Queensland //

Choosing a dive site

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Cairns’ major draw is the Great Barrier Reef, and there are so many cruise or dive options that making a choice can be very daunting. A lot of fuss is made about the differences between the inner reef (closer to the coast, and visited by slower boats), the outer reef (closest to the open sea and the target of most speedy operators) and fringing reef (surrounding Fitzroy and Green islands), but the coral and fishlife at any of them can be either excellent or tragic. The state of Cairns’ coral is the subject of much debate: years of agricultural runoff and recent coral-bleaching events – not to mention the sheer number of visitors – have had a visibly detrimental effect in the most visited areas, though remoter sections tend to be in better condition. Having said that, almost everywhere is still packed with marine life, ranging from tiny gobies to squid, turtles and big pelagic fish – only seasoned divers might come away disappointed.

Vessels to take you there range from old trawlers to racing yachts and high-speed cruisers; cruises and dive trips last from a day to over a week. All day-trip operators have ticket desks at, and depart from, the Reef Fleet Terminal at the end of Spence Street; you can also book through an agent, but either way you need to do so at least a day in advance. One way to choose the right boat is simply to check out the price: small, cramped, slow tubs are the cheapest, while roomy, faster catamarans are more expensive; to narrow things down further, find out which serves the best food.

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