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Where to encounter marine animals on the Great Barrier Reef

Here's how to get up close with local marine life on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is more than 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) in length and is one of the most diverse ocean habitats in the world. Dive straight from the back of a boat or snorkel out from an island beach to discover some of the 1,600 species of fish, 30 species of whales and dolphins, 130 species of sharks and rays and six species of sea turtles, which thrill millions of visitors every year. 

Meet the marine animals of the Great Barrier Reef

Swim with sea turtles on Hamilton Island

Six of the world's seven species of marine turtles live in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. One of the best ways to spot the turtles is by exploring the fringing reef surrounding Hamilton Island on a Deep Water Turtle Discovery tour. Pick up your gear from Hamilton Island Beach Sports before snorkelling off the calm waters of Catseye Beach. Not only will you swim with turtles, you’ll also see colourful coral formations teeming with fish. Keep your eyes peeled for the friendly clownfish, made popular by the film Finding Nemo

Spot minke whales off Lizard Island

Each year, graceful dwarf minke whales migrate to the warm waters off Lizard Island, known as the Ribbon Reefs. Eye to Eye Marine Encounters offers small-group nature expeditions on board the luxury MA Aroona. Early July is the peak time for spotting minke and, in the right conditions, you can swim, snorkel and dive with these inquisitive creatures. Part of the cost of the tour supports the team that has been researching, tagging and protecting the whales for almost two decades. 

Encounter turtles, sharks and groupers at Heron Island

As well as being a breeding ground for hundreds of green and loggerhead turtles from November to February each year, Heron Island is a hot spot for moray eels and home to a friendly two metre (6 1/2 ft) grouper named Gus. The island is located directly on the reef, so you can wade out at low tide to get a detailed look at the Great Barrier Reef, and it also provides easy access to 20 different diving sites. At Heron Island's signature dive site, Heron Bommie, you can spot mantas and eagle rays and the common blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. Head to the Marine Centre to book watersports or a Discover Scuba Diving course and to hire gear. 

Meet dugongs at “Wonder Wall” on the Upolu Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is home to one of the world’s largest dugong populations. Your best chance to see one of these giant aquatic mammals is aboard the luxury cruising cat Ocean Freedom on a tour to the outer edges of the Upolu Reef, located off the coast of Cairns. The catamaran moors near the famed “Wonder Wall” which, as well as being home to dugongs, features many of the Great Barrier Reef's species of fish, coral, molluscs and turtles.