With an infinite variety of reef, wall, wreck, and drift dives, the 1,200-mile-long Great Barrier Reef supports more marine life than anyplace else in the world. More than 15,000 species of fish, coral, and sponges live on the reef, while tiny islands provide the world's largest breeding grounds for endangered Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, and millions of seabirds.
I couldn't wait to jump in. Shortly after breakfast, I and some 40 other divers left the little town of Port Douglas aboard a speedy V-hull dive boat for the 90-minute ride to the reef. Though the sea was choppy, we found relatively quiet moorings on the Agincourt Reef, one of some 2,800 reef systems that make up the GBR.
Farther down the coast lies Cairns; a touristy city with more than 100,000 residents, it's another major gateway to the reef. Every morning, boats leave the harbor carrying divers, snorkelers, and sightseers who lunch on pontoons permanently anchored on the reef. While some boats haul 100 passengers, my 72-foot catamaran had a more intimate 40 on board.
When in the water, I gawked at huge polka-dotted potato cod and barramundi, swam through thick schools of anthias (tiny red, purple, and yellow-striped fish), and hovered over cute orange-and-white clown anemonefish living unharmed among the poisonous tentacles of sea anemones.
I was startled to see a black and white snake swimming among pastel-colored soft corals. In my book, snakes are not supposed to swim underwater. Fortunately, although the sea snake is even more venomous than Australia's deadly land snakes, it has a tiny mouth that doesn't open wide enough to bite a human. Still, I gave him a wide berth, as I did another poisonous beautya lion fish, striped orange and white and bristling with wavy spines.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication