Ben Southall’s Great Barrier Reef

Ben Southall on October 28th, 2017

Since winning the Best Job in the World I've swum, snorkelled, kayaked, sailed and flown all over the Great Barrier Reef and every time it’s a uniquely awe-inspiring adventure. Here are my best bits, from the best reef in the world. 

Seasons, months, and even the change of tide delivers unique, beautiful experiences along the entire Great Barrier Reef and over the last eight years I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled, lived and worked along its entirety.

I've spent months documenting exceptional natural interactions above, on and below the water from my original perspective as a curious traveller, to my current day role as an adventurer and digital journalist. It’s given me a comprehensive understanding of the beauty, diversity and fragility of our World Heritage wonder and an insight not many people are lucky enough to have.

The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just a plethora of coral reefs, it’s so much more. Home to billions of fish and thousands of marine species, it’s the nursing ground for some of the world’s biggest mammals and smallest creatures. 

Like every snorkeller and diver, I love to watch the big stuff – dolphins, turtles, whales and of course sharks, but I’m just as happy zooming in on the macro life too. Tiny Cleaner Wrasse work the gills of transient fish, Anemones test the water waiting for tasty morsels to float by, and tiny Spanish Dancers float on the ocean’s current, twisting and turning to a tune only they can hear.

Some of my most memorable moments come when I’m alone underwater, seen with my own eyes and shared with no one. Others with friends, family or other snorkellers, sharing a fleeting moment as nature turns on its charm to remind us how lucky we are to be there. 

A deep-sea dive like no other

Embarking on a deep-sea exploratory mission with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions threw up some of the most intense, unique aquatic experiences of my diving career. Osprey Reef lies 120km offshore from Lizard Island and provides an adrenaline-charged dive like no other. Descending 30 metres through a shiver of sharks to the feeding site delivered swooping Silvertips, massive Potato Cod and hovering Hammerheads, all feverishly waiting for the bait to be released.

This trip coincided with the annual arrival of some of the rarest, most inquisitive visitors to the Great Barrier Reef, the Dwarf Minke Whales. These reclusive creatures spend only five weeks each year in a very small area to the north of the reef before heading back to Antarctic waters. Hanging from a snorkel line behind our liveaboard vessel, Spoilsport, was an experience I’ll never forget. Gazing through my mask, as the distant dark shapes passed by, the gentle giants came ever closer as their confidence grew.

But for us humans, whale interactions aren’t limited to a few brief sightings on the outer reef. Between July and October, Humpback Whales are so abundant across the entire Great Barrier Reef that spotting them becomes a game of how many, not when and if. They’ve popped up alongside me when I’ve been kayaking, woken me from a lazy slumber whilst sleeping on a pontoon and cruised lethargically in front of our yacht during Hamilton Island Race Week. 

A special Lady

If I had to spend the rest of my life in one location it’d be Lady Elliot Island at the southern end of the reef. Perched on the edge of the continental shelf, it’s perfectly positioned to attract the big stuff. Manta Rays love to visit and slurp nutrient-rich plankton from the surface, turtles wallow in the waters of the lagoon and sharks of all shapes and sizes patrol the waters, from friendly lemon and black tip reef sharks to the larger, more transient species.

Back on dry land, thousands of birds have made this place their home after decades of guano mining that stripped the island of any visible vegetation. It’s a different story today with a thriving population of feathered friends nestled alongside the most ecologically-sound resort on the entire reef. Witnessing sunset as the birds come home to roost is one of the most naturally-immersive experiences you could wish for.

Amazing adventures above, on and below the reef

I used to call the 74 islands of the Whitsundays home and have spent many happy hours sailing, cruising and flying between them, with each location offering a different adventure. My favourite way to fully experience the feeling of island life on the Great Barrier Reef is by kayak – paddle between bays, feel the wind and salt in my face, before setting up camp on a beach and sleeping under a blanket of stars. 

The scale and magnificence of the Great Barrier Reef only comes into full view when you get up high and fly over it. In 1770 Captain Cook described the labyrinth of reefs as “hellish” as he fought to escape its grasp, trapped for weeks, unable to find a safe passage into open ocean. Today through the window of a plane it's easy to see what he meant, but at the same time you can easily appreciate its beauty, stretching far off towards the horizon.

This magnificent palette of iridescent greens and azure blues looks like a massive painting, but far below a billion coral polyps build the largest living organism in the world.

With so many incredible experiences lodged firmly in my mind you’d think I'd seen enough. Far from it! I’m always planning my next aquatic adventure.



Ben Southall

Ben Southall

Ben Southall is a presenter, digital journalist and professional adventurer. He beat 35,000 to win the Best Job in the World in 2009 and became the ‘Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef’ in Queensland, Australia. He has presented his own series The Best Job in the World on Nat Geo’s Adventure Channel, and works with television networks across Australia and writes for a number of print and online communities. In 2011 Ben kayaked 1,600kms along the Great Barrier Reef retracing Captain Cook’s ‘Voyage of Discovery’ with the Best Expedition in the World. He currently works with the Queensland government as their Adventurer in Residence and continues to explore, promote and protect the Great Barrier Reef through his storytelling and work as a tourism ambassador.

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