Here’s how you can help save the Great Barrier Reef today
Like all the world’s coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is under threat. Global warming, storm damage, crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) outbreaks and pollution have all had an impact on the Reef over recent years. But even having suffered all this, the world’s largest living organism is still a spectacular sight and with all of our help, the Reef will not only survive, but thrive.
Luckily, the largest coral reef in the world is also the best-managed reef in the world. There are projects that range from education programs, plastic pollution control, COTS eradication, coral nurseries, renewable energy development and responsible stewardship by marine park tourism organisations, which all contribute to helping save the Great Barrier Reef.
There’s also plenty we can all do to protect the Great Barrier Reef – both when we visit and in our own home.
Here are the best ways you can help save our Great Barrier Reef for future generations.
Come and see the Great Barrier Reef
Contrary to popular belief, visiting the Great Barrier Reef is a good thing. All visitors are required to pay an Environmental Management Charge – this ‘reef tax’ helps pay for the day-to-day management and conservation of the Reef. Plus, after seeing the GBR up close in all its glory, you’ll be more inspired to help protect it.
Stay at an eco resort
While visiting the Great Barrier Reef, opt to stay at one of the eco resorts in the area. These resorts are dedicated to minimising their carbon footprint on the Reef, as well as that of their guests.
Lady Elliot Island is a world leading ecotourism destination that stopped selling single-use plastic back in 2012, and offsets 100% of carbon emissions from flights to and from the island.
Elysian Retreat, a secluded off-the-grid adults-only resort at the southern tip of Long Island in the Whitsundays, has numerous eco initiatives in place, including composting food waste, growing their own fruit and vegetables, and minimising the use of plastic and avoiding single-use plastic.
Elysian’s sister venue, Pumpkin Island, is a low-impact resort run on 100% wind and solar power. It uses only biodegradable cleaning products and organic certified guest amenities manufactured in Byron Bay, Australia.
For more eco-friendly places to stay in Queensland, check out this list.
Learn about the Reef
Knowledge is power. Most boats that take you to the outer reef have a marine experts on board, such as Sunlover Reef Cruises. Take advantage of the opportunity and ask as many questions as you like.
Another way to learn about the Reef is to attend Reef Teach – a two-hour evening presentation where you’ll learn everything about the Reef from how coral reefs form, the difference between soft and hard corals and how to identify fish.
Possibly the best way to learn more about the Reef is to visit Reef HQ in Townsville. In this aquarium and research centre, you’ll find the world’s largest living coral reef in an aquarium (it even has an annual spawning event). It’s positively bursting at the seams with information on how this complicated and biodiverse habitat works, the various threats to the Reef, and what scientists are doing to save it.
Reef-friendly travel tips
Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. The rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions is causing the ocean to warm up, which is killing coral and marine life. Carbon offsetting your trip helps balance out the impact of carbon emissions that result from travel – be it by car, bus, plane or any means of transport. Carbon offset programs like Greenfleet plant native biodiverse forests to capture carbon emissions and future-proof the environment against climate change.
The best eco-friendly way to explore the Great Barrier Reef is in a tour. Not only will you learn about the Reef from your local guide, but group tours equal less carbon emissions, especially when you choose an eco-certified tour company or mode of transport.
At your accommodation (this applies to anywhere in the world!), limit the number of towels you use during your stay to save on water wastage and cleaning products. Turn off lights and air conditioning whenever you leave a room to conserve power.
It’s great to get out and see the Great Barrier Reef’s natural beauty, both under the sea and on land, but stick to designated areas and paths. Going off-road can result in damaging endangered plants and additional erosion.
For more ideas, these are the best eco-friendly experiences on the Great Barrier Reef.
Contribute to saving the Great Barrier Reef
How to help during your visit
There are several citizen science projects that you can contribute to. You can help to monitor the Reef’s health through Eye on the Reef, Coral Watch and ReefSearch.
Sign up for ReefSearch and you’ll be sent a field guide to show you how to contribute valuable data to scientists studying the Reef’s health. Spend 10 minutes of each dive, snorkel or reef walk looking for key species, checking coral condition, and making note of any rubbish found.
Coral Watch is focused on bleaching events, managed by the University of Queensland. Your Coral Watch kit comes with a colour-coded slate that helps you identify and record coral colours. You can then upload via an app to add to a global database.
Eye on the Reef is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GRMPA). Download the Eye on the Reef app or log in online to report your sightings directly to them. A sighting can be anything a Reef user feels important enough to report and can include incidents like a bleaching event, crown-of-thorns starfish, stranded or sick wildlife and coral damage.
If you are passionate about helping to save the turtles, here’s how you can help.
Help save the Great Barrier Reef from afar
There are three local projects that you can contribute to directly and be sure that 100% of your donation goes to saving the Reef. The Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation, the Reef Rainforest Research Centre, and Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef are all set up for crowdfunding, and you know all the money will go into GREAT Barrier Reef initiatives.
If you want to do more than simply donate, become a ‘Citizen’ of the Reef. Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef aims to connect people all over the world with one aim in mind – to help save the Great Barrier Reef. It’s easy to become a Citizen: simply sign up, choose your colour and pick an ‘action’ to complete. This could be to:
- Bring your own bag
- Bring your own bottle
- Say no to straws
- Don’t leave leftovers
- Carry your own cup
- Sponsor a COTS diver
One of the simplest ways to help save our oceans is by picking up plastic from our beaches and oceans. It’s estimated that up to 40,000 pieces of plastic float in every square kilometre of ocean.
The Tangaroa Blue Foundation is an Australia-wide not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris. They host regular ReefClean beach clean-up events – check their Facebook page for the next one near you.
Changes you can make in your day-to-day life
Your efforts to help save the Great Barrier Reef (and make a positive impact on the world around you) starts at home. Small changes to your daily life can have a flow-on impact to saving the reef. Here are some simple ways to become more eco-conscious.
Reduce plastic usage
In 2018, Queensland implemented a state-wide ban on retailers supplying single-use lightweight plastic bags, which resulted in a 70% drop in plastic bag litter in the first year. To improve these numbers even more, opt for products that use plastic-free packaging, say no to straws, and dine in rather than take away.
Disposable coffee cups are a major contributor to litter on streets and in waterways, as well as a burden on our waste management services.
Bring along your own reusable keep-cup whenever you visit a cafe, and if you make your own coffee at home, use recyclable coffee pods.
Use eco-friendly beauty products
Beauty products use excessive amounts of plastic in their packaging, but that’s not the only way your beauty routine could be harming the environment – and more specifically, the ocean and marine life.
The microbeads in some exfoliating products are actually made of plastic. They’re so fine that they’re not captured by most wastewater treatment systems and end up in the ocean. They don’t break down or dissolve; instead, they absorb the toxins in the water and end up getting eaten by marine life, potentially killing fish. While microbeads are becoming widely banned around the world, it’s worth paying extra attention to the ingredients in your scrubs. Opt for biodegradable exfoliating alternatives like jojoba esters and coffee grounds instead.
Applying sunscreen before spending a day by or on the ocean has become second nature to protect our skin against skin cancer. But the UV filters in chemical sunscreens wash off in the water and can be harmful to marine life and coral. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate have been linked to coral bleaching. Look for a reef-friendly sunscreen – Australian skincare brands Sukin, endota and Wotnot all offer reef-safe formulas.
Make your home more eco-friendly
Solar energy is a clean renewable energy (and can save you money in the long-run) so consider installing solar panels to power your home.
Plant an edible garden and reduce your leftover food waste. Also, make the switch to chemical-free cleaning and gardening products.
Meet the Reef Warriors
The island, a hot spot for manta rays, now plays host to thousands of nesting seabirds, and over 80% of the island’s energy requirements are now sourced from a combined solar and battery storage system.
Libby Edge’s Eco Barge Clean Seas program has been removing plastic waste from the Whitsunday Islands for almost 10 years helping to save the lives of marine animals, as well as educating locals to reduce land-based litter in the tropical north.
Wendy Morris founded The Reef Society to promote stories of Great Barrier Reef creatures through art, photography and clothing, and many years ago also founded Reef Biosearch, the first marine biologist interpretive company to work commercially on the Great Barrier Reef, which became a prototype for eco-tourism operations.
Col McKenzie heads up the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (APMTO), which manages stewardship of the Reef. He and his wife Margie also manage the CoTS eradication program and have both been fighting for the Reef since the 1990s.
The newest program established to save the Reef is Citizens of The Great Barrier Reef, headed up by Andy Ridley, founder of Earth Hour, which aims to unite people across the globe with this one aim in mind.
And you can help, too.
Here are the best ways you can help save our Great Barrier Reef for future generations.
Keen to dive deeper into helping save the Reef?
Discover 6 more ways to look after the reef.
Interested in the science side of the reef? Check out this ultimate guide for budding marine biologists.