Marine Life Viewing

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has an unrivalled collection of unique, beautiful creatures which leave visitors stirred, fascinated and in awe.

It’s important to treat this precious life with absolute care and respect. Careless handling can injure and stress the animals – for example, petting fish can remove the skin's protective mucous coating, exposing them to diseases. What’s more, the strong toxins used by many marine animals to defend and protect themselves can cause extreme allergic reactions in some people. Even touching seemingly harmless coral can have painful consequences and a careless movement can result in slow-to-heal, easily infected cuts.

It may not be necessary to handle marine life in order to display its beauty to visitors. Most animals on the reef will react to your presence, the true beauty is experienced when you blend into the environment and they begin to behave naturally.

Touching and handling marine life should be avoided wherever possible. If you are to handle marine life, only ever handle hardy specimens as advised by a marine biologist.

Responsible Reef Practices

In general

  • Consider using alternative activities rather than handling, such as laminated ID cards, dead shell specimens, dive slates, and no-touch snorkel tours.
  • Touch tanks are not recommended, due to the various stresses placed on the animals.
  • Avoid touching any marine life, wherever possible, and explain to your clients that they shouldn’t touch the animals.
  • Never remove animals from the water.
  • Never chase, grab, harass, try to ride, or block the progress of marine animals – let them move naturally.
  • Do not approach marine life, keep your distance and let the wildlife approach you.
  • Stay more than one metre away from giant clams.
  • Back away from animals that are showing signs of stress (such as erratic behaviour and aggressive posturing).
  • Do not completely surround marine animals, leave them an escape route.
  • Stay away from wildlife that looks injured or sick.
  • Never relocate animals if you’re photographing or filming.
  • Do not feed marine life.
  • Encourage your clients to not wear gloves in the water (except for safety reasons).

When handling marine life

  • Only competent and trained staff should handle marine life as part of an interpretive program.
  • Know your animals. Many are dangerous and can, for example, cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Brief your clients before you pick up any animal.
  • Do not let your clients handle marine life.
  • Avoid picking up soft bodied or fragile animals such as crinoids, starfish, sea cucumbers and worms.
  • Handle all marine life with care – that is, use an open hand, never squeeze, never pry loose or detach anything.
  • Return animals to the EXACT location and in the same position where you found them.
  • Ensure a staff member is monitoring the animal's behaviour.

Reporting

  • Please report stranded or dead marine animals.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must not damage, collect or otherwise ‘take’ or 'possess' coral, including dead coral, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park unless you have a Marine Parks permit.
  • You must not ‘take’ protected species such as whales, dolphins, turtles, birds, giant triton shell, helmet shell, giant clam, Maori wrasse and barramundi cod in the Marine Park unless you have a Marine Parks permit.
  • You can only 'take' or 'possess' five specimens of each restricted species at any time in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
    Note: ‘Take’ includes removing, gathering, killing or interfering with, or attempting to take. 'Possess' means to have custody or control of. There may be special arrangements for Traditional Owners.
  • A specific permission on your tourism program permit is required to operate a touch tank.
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