Stretching from Bundaberg in the south to the Keppel Group of Islands in the north, the Southern Great Barrier Reef is an underwater paradise full of healthy and vibrant marine life. With such a large area to explore and so much to see and do on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, the 'Great Eight' is a handy checklist as you make your way around this mesmerising region.
Below are the reef’s 'Great Eight', the most popular sights and iconic experiences:
The most popular of the hundreds of fish species on the Southern Great Barrier Reef is without doubt the Clownfish (or Nemo’s as they’re affectionately known!). Clownfish live amongst the sea anemones that are in abundance in this region. Around all 4 of the major islands of Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave , Heron and Great Keppel you can spot Clownfish right throughout the year. Given they are so small it’s a good idea to have a chat with your local tour guide to find out the best places to see them.
As the name suggests, these clams are an extraordinary sight. Growing up to 1.5 meters in length, the giant clams can live up to a hundred years old. Fortunately, they too can be found all year round with some of the best places to see them being in the waters around Lady Elliot and Heron Island as well as off Shelving Beach on Great Keppel Island.
The most amazing species of ray is undoubtedly the Manta Ray. With a wing span of up to 7 meters they are an amazing sight as they cruise through the nutrient rich waters of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. The premiere place to see them in this region is Lady Elliot Island, otherwise known as the 'Home of the Manta Ray'! The Mantas mainly visit Lady Elliot during the months of May and June but can be seen all year round. They can also be spotted at Lady Musgrave, Heron Bommie and Barren Island in the Keppel Group.
One of most most inquisitive fish on the Southern Great Barrier Reef also happens to be one of the largest! The Maori Wrasse is a friendly giant that can grow up to 2 meters long. Maori Wrasse Bommie at Lady Elliot Island, Outer Rock and Egg Rock in the Keppel Group and Lady Musgrave Island are the pick of the places to see them throughout the year.
Another of the gentle giants that call the Southern Great Barrier Reef home are the Potato Cods. These cods have distinctive grey and brown markings and like the Maori Wrasse can grow up to 2 meters long. They can be seen all year round and the best place in the region to spot them is at Lady Elliot Island.
A healthy reef system isn’t complete without a healthy population of sharks. The most common species in the Southern Great Barrier Reef are the smaller reef sharks including black tip and white tip reef sharks. These timid sharks are permanent residents and are most common at Heron Harbour on Heron Island, Lighthouse and Coral Gardens on Lady Elliot and in the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island.
The Southern Great Barrier Reef is one of the most important breeding and nesting areas in Australia for sea turtles such as the Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtle. During turtle season (November to March), hundreds of turtles nest in the region. The Mon Repos Conservation Park just outside Bundaberg run nightly tours at the Turtle Centre where you can take part in a guided turtle encounter and witness turtles nesting and hatching. When it comes to being able to swim with them, the most popular places are the lagoon at Lady Elliot, around Heron Harbour on Heron Island, Monkey Beach at Great Keppel Island and the lagoon at Lady Musgrave.
Every year thousands of Humpback Whales pass through the waters of the Southern Great Barrier Reef on their annual migration north. They begin reaching our waters around June with the last of them leaving in November. Whale watching tours run from Bundaberg and Yeppoon and they can be frequently spotted in the waters around Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave, Heron and the Keppel Islands either from the land or whilst you are out on snorkelling or diving tours.