Today we turn our attention to Australia's east coast and the Great Barrier Reef, where there is unmatched biodiversity. In terms of global importance and natural worth, no other place on the planet comes even close and it needs to be seen to be believed.
The astonishing Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, extending from deep waters to shallow areas and incorporating over 2900 separate coral reefs and houses an unimaginable range of creatures, each more fascinating than the last. This expansive area of reef is made of of 70 'bioregions' (or broad-scale habitats) each suitable for different plants and creatures to survive and thrive in. It is in these 'bioregions' that the "Great 8" iconic marine creatures exist and can all be encountered.
Made famous by the film Finding Nemo, clownfish have become the 'poster boys' of the Great Barrier Reef thanks to their vibrant and recognisable orange and white scales. Graceful and appealing, clownfish can usually be found hiding amongst the stinging tentacles of anemones in sheltered reefs and shallow lagoons.
Possibly not what you wanted to see on this list, but sharks are commonplace in the warm waters off the Whitsundays, Cairns etc. Don't worry though, we're certainly not talking about the notorious Great White Shark here (they prefer the cold waters of the Southern Ocean!). Instead, what you'll encounter are far smaller species (usually reef sharks), ones which pose no threat whatsoever to divers and snorkellers. That doesn't mean that these sharks don't rule the roost though, these lone rangers are still top of the food chain around these parts!
One of the most recognisable creatures of the ocean, Manta Rays are the largest of all rays and boast a highly impressive wingspan (or finspan) which they use to full effect in navigating the Australia waters with the upmost style and grace. These gentle giants are mostly solitary creatures and, unlike its cousin the stingray, does not have a barb on its body. Manta Rays might not be the most beautiful sea creature you'll see at the barrier reef, but it is certainly amongst the most fascinating and approachable.
Meet your new best friend from the ocean! Highly personable and friendly, the Maori Wrasse love to play and follow you around in the depths of the ocean and it is this characteristic that can occasionally be its demise. Not only among the easiest of prey, it is also a notoriously tasty fish, which ensures that it is highly sought after. There is so much more to these big-boned fish though. They are considered romantic and can be found in solitary male-female pairs and are important in protecting the reef from sea hares and box fish which attack it.
Large and robust, the potato cod can be fairly intimidating to look at, but any anxiety will soon fade away when you first approach these giant fish. Dive to the famous Cod Hole for the best place to see the potato cod and somewhere that you can see them every day. Witness the incredible sight of them being hand fed and swim with them, as they exhibit a mutual lack of fear with you by swimming centimetres away from you and other divers.
Found everywhere on the Great Barrier Reef, these guys might come across as tough characters to you, but in truth they're really just big softies! Spending their days eating algae and looking good in a spectrum of colours on the seabed. Often brightly coloured and eye-catching, these clams come in a range of shapes and sizes and can live up to 100 years in the same spot at the bottom of the ocean.
The reef is undoubtedly the turtle hub of the world, with six of the worlds' seven turtle species calling it home. Typically the most sought after creature for visitors, it's not difficult to catch a glimpse of a turtle or two here, as instinct draws them together each year for mating in the shallows and nesting on the shore of the islands around the Great Barrier Reef. Despite sightings being relatively common, all of these turtles are endangered and are reliant on help from the Queensland Turtle Conservation project for help.
Despite its shallow waters, the Great Barrier Reef is actually the playground of choice for humpback whales and their calves. It is here that they arrive in the months of June - September, as they build up their and their calves' strength before returning to the impossibly colder waters of the Antarctic. Whale watching is done here in a safe and responsible manner in order to minimise human interference in the lives of the whales, whilst also providing a memorable and educational experience for visitors. Off of the waters of Cooktown in the Tropical North Queensland waters, you'll also find dwarf minke whales frolicking.