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Finding Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef

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You can see it from space and the Great Barrier reef is no less impressive up close than it is from that distance. Stretching over 2600km, it's the largest known structure made up of living organisms on the planet.

As well as the coral which comes in thousands of different shapes, colours and species, the reef is inhabited by a wealth of other wildlife. Tropical fish coexist with sharks, anemones and underwater plants.

Barrier reef

Lying just off the coast of Queensland in the Coral Sea, it is often named as one of the wonders of the natural world, alongside Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest.

It's a sight best seen close, and there's no better way than getting up close and personal on a diving trip. It's illegal to touch or remove pieces from the reef but a boat tour will take you as close as it's possible to get.

Trips leave from ports all along the Queensland coast, with Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown all making for popular starting points. Operators like Quicksilver in Port Douglas, with whom I travelled, take you to the outer reefs to experience the wildlife in total isolation.

With empty tropical seas stretching as far as the eye can see, it's no hardship to slip into the warm waters and tune out as you watch the coral community get on with their lives. Many companies will take you to more than one dive site, ensuring you're able to really appreciate the diversity of life on a coral reef.

We spotted clownfish and blue tangs (Nemo and Dory), turtles and even a scary looking but benign reef shark. The vibrant colours and unique formations of coral are well worth experiencing and the weird and wonderful wildlife never gets dull.

If like me you'd rather not scuba dive, it's still possible to spot all sorts by strapping on some flippers and getting out there with a snorkel. One thing worth looking out for is the truly bizarre Nudibranch, an often vividly coloured slug-like invertebrate which are often found on warm, shallow reef beds.

If you really fall for the reef and have the time, why not get involved in a conservation volunteering project? Queensland's smorgasbord of sealife is under threat and there are plenty of projects to help preserve it, from workaway stays at eco-tourism businesses to coral and turtle conservation.

Because some of the coral which makes up the reef grows at just 5-10mm a year it's vitally important that this beautiful structure is well looked after. Sadly environmental pressures have meant that it has lost over half of its coral cover in the last 30 years, and time may be running out to see this - perhaps the most beautiful and varied natural wonder of the world.

For more travel inspiration visit www.experiencequeensland.com




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