Reef Dangers

Tropical North Queensland is the gateway to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, an underwater playground full of vibrant coral and marine life. Home to more than 1500 species of fish it’s no surprise this incredibly diverse ecosystem includes a few characters that may give nasty stings or in rare cases be potentially fatal, all of which is dependant on the victims medical and physical condition. Yet as with most dangers, if you are aware of them and take the right precautions, there is nothing to stop you finding Nemo among the beauty of the coral bommies and reef.

Listen to the experts

When diving or snorkelling, listen to the skipper, divemaster and crew on your Great Barrier Reef tour boat. They have a wealth of local knowledge and are trained to deal with bites, stings, and other potential dangers. If unsure of anything at all, ask. And remember, it’s their job to make sure you have a great day out on the reef so they’ll take all precautions necessary to keep you safe.

Iru – what?

Sea life that you’ll be made aware of by these trained professionals include the Irukandji and box jellyfish. Both are found around the world, but it’s Australia’s leading research efforts that have perhaps led many to believe the waters of Australia is the only place they reside.

Both have stings that can sometimes be fatal to humans, yet these stings are treatable, it just depends on the health of the victim and the time of transfer to medical attention. During the ‘high’ or ‘peak season’ it is recommended to wear a lycra sun suit while exploring the ocean to protect your skin and these are available on all of the Great Barrier Reef tour boats. You’ll also have the option of doing so during the low season.

Deceptively cute

Other marine life on the reef that can pose a threat to humans include the deceptively cute and harmless looking blue-ringed octopus and cone snails

Lionfish, stingraysstonefish, and sea snakes are other characters to watch out for. 

Coral and currents

If diving on the inner barrier reef, where you may enter the water off sand cays or coral isles, be aware of stepping on coral. Rigid and sharp, coral can pierce the skin and while the cut may seem minor and harmless, a small amount of animal protein or calcareous material may be left in the wound, making it susceptible to infection.

  • Flush out the cut with fresh water immediately.
  • If the wound stings, rinse it with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol.
  • Be sure to seek medical advice if irritation persists, or you suffer more severe side effects.

To be on the safe side, avoid touching coral.

Strong currents are another potential hazard to be aware of and may pull you away from the boat. Be sure to listen to your dive and snorkel instructors and the advice given during your safety briefing. They are the experts who can accurately read the conditions on the day.

Reef Teach

If this all seems a bit overwhelming and you’re keen to learn all you can about the Reef prior to embarking on a day trip, consider Reef Teach ( in Cairns. Designed to enhance your Great Barrier Reef adventure, this highly entertaining two-hour course, led by a qualified marine biologist, will amaze and inspire you before your exploration. You’ll learn how to identify different species of coral, common fish, and the dangers of the reef. 

Above all, remember that millions of visitors venture to the Reef year upon year. Don’t let the potential hazards deter you from exploring one of the most spectacular sites in the world.

Great Barrier Reef Blog