A network of over 2,900 individual reefs running for over 2,300 kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a place that holds undeniable appeal to kids, thanks in no small part to a certain colourful cartoon fish and its other exciting underwater inhabitants. But it is also due to the proliferation of child-friendly reef tours and island stops that mean kids of all ages can explore the reef and get up close and personal with its resident fish and coral whether they dive in or access it through touch tanks and enclosed swimming areas.
While it won’t take a lot of searching to find out what parents think about a reef holiday destination, and its family friendly offerings, what about their children? To find out what they really think about visiting the Great Barrier Reef, I’ve gone straight to the source and you might be surprised to hear that this future generation of eco-warriors were all as excited about what they learned as what they saw.
Savvy traveller Alegría (6) from Melbourne, travelled to the Low Isles, a protected coral cay off the coast of Port Douglas by catamaran and enjoyed spotting dolphins and visiting the island where she learned about Indigenous and Australian history and speaking with a marine biologist on a beach walk where she “learned all about the local ecosystems”. And while she loved the snorkelling because she “got to see a reef shark, turtle and so many different coloured fish”, Alegría says her favourite part of her Great Barrier Reef Adventure was learning about the animals.
“I went snorkeling and saw a shark! I swear I saw it,” says hyper-observant under water adventurer Liam (7) from Brisbane whose visit to Marine World was the highlight of his recent Great Barrier Reef holiday. But seeing fish in the underwater observatory and spotting a turtle on a semi-submarine tour, were just part of the reason why. Liam was equally excited about what he learned about the reef’s role in the ocean eco-system. “It's awesome because it protects all the fish from the big sharks. And there are no big sharks because the Reef keeps them away so you can snorkel in the ocean without getting eaten.” Information I think we can all agree is good to know, Liam.
Liam’s adorable little sister Layla (5) was also paying attention and insisted that I remind visitors not to step on the coral. “You must not break it because it will die and that's where the fish like Nemo and Dory and that black and white and stripey fish live”.
Jesse (9) from Sydney enjoyed snorkelling and swimming in the sheltered, warm waters around rainforest-covered Green Island, off the coast of Cairns. Jesse cites “swimming with the many beautiful fish and the warm water” as his favourite activity on the Great Barrier Reef highlight but also wanted to highlight his concerns about the Reef’s delicate eco-system, warning “The corals are living things, so don't break them off”.
A cruise to Michelmas Cay, a small low sand cay about 40 kilometres North-East of Cairns that is home to thousands of ground-nesting seabirds was a memorable experience for Yaegan (11) from Brisbane. Along with the birds and snorkelling alongside turtles off the remote little island, Yaegan “loved the submarine on Michelmas Cay where we learned lots about all the different types of coral and saw Nemo and Dory fish”. And like the other kids, Yaegan’s biggest take-away from her reef explorations was also one of education and conservation. “It is in danger from destruction and we need to save this beautiful Australian landmark”.
These wise words from some very wise kids make it clear that there is though there’s plenty of it to be found, there’s more to the Great Barrier Reef than just fun in the sun. A Reef holiday offers kids memorable experiences and an unbeatable opportunity to learn first hand about the importance of caring for our environment.
All photos courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland