Walking on the Reef

The reef flat is very vulnerable to damage and you should avoid walking on it as much as possible.

If you or your clients are walking over the reef flat, tread lightly and be aware that you’re actually walking in an area teeming with marine life. A misplaced footstep has the potential for great damage.

What’s more, be on the look out for the reef flat’s dangerous residents such as cone shells, stinging hydroids, and stone fish.

Whenever you or your clients walk on the reef, even if it’s only to access the beach from your boat, please follow these simple practices and help protect this fragile natural community.

Responsible Reef Practices

In general

  • Avoid walking on the reef whenever possible – walk only along the edges of the beach.
  • Reef walking by your clients should only be done as part of a guided interpretive program.
  • Guides should be well trained in best practices and reef awareness.
  • As an alternative activity, take your clients exploring along the foreshore.

When on the reef

  • Step only in sand channels and patches – if you hear crunching underfoot, stop and find an alternative route.
  • Be aware of dangerous animals that have taken refuge in the sand and reef (for example, stingrays and cone shells).

When guiding clients

  • Limit group numbers to less than 15 people per guide.
  • Brief your clients on potential dangers and proper behaviour (for example ‘stay together’, ‘do not wander off’, ‘do not pick up animals’).
  • Follow a predetermined path through the reef, locate regularly used routes or follow sand channels.
  • Do not walk in water deeper than your knees.
  • Be aware of incoming tides – don’t get caught in deep water.
  • Use a walking pole to help with balance, but do not use these sticks for prying, poking, prodding or turning rubble over.
  • Observe the animals rather than handle them. Many animals are already stressed during low tides and handling them will only increase this stress.
  • Do not turn over coral rubble or detach anything (animal or plant) from the Reef.
  • If you accidentally disturb anything (alive or dead), immediately return it to its exact position.
  • Do not corner, chase, surround, or provoke marine animals.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

  • You must have a Marine Parks permit to conduct reef walking as part of a tourist program.
  • You must not damage, collect or otherwise ‘take’ or 'possess' coral, including dead coral, and 'take' protected shell species (that is triton shell, helmet shell, giant clam) in the Great Barrier Reef 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.
  • You must abide by the collecting requirements in the Zoning Plan:
    • Collecting is allowed in General Use Zone (light blue), Habitat Protection Zone (dark blue) and Conservation Park Zone (yellow). Limits on number and frequency
    • Collecting is not allowed in the Buffer Zone (olive green), Scientific Research Zone (orange), Marine National Park Zone (green) or Preservation Zone (pink).
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