Scuba Diving The Great Barrier Reef: Here’s our Ultimate Guide (2023)

Diving the Great Barrier Reef is a memory you won’t forget.

Embark on an adventure of a lifetime by scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most sought-after diving destinations. Our definitive guide is packed with essential information and expert tips to ensure an unparalleled scuba diving experience that will etch indelible memories. So, let’s dive into what you need to know about scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Hang out scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef with a turtle in the 360 dive on Norman Reef below

© Underwater Earth/XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Christophe Bailhache (Norman Reef, Great Barrier Reef)

Want to dive into the best the Great Barrier Reef has to offer? – Keep reading

Be an Ocean Steward

As you dive into the vibrant underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s imperative to remember the importance of conservation. The reef faces challenges such as coral bleaching and habitat destruction. As divers, we must tread lightly and become stewards of the ocean, advocating for sustainable practices to protect this fragile ecosystem.

There was the largest bleaching event recorded in 2016 & 2017 but many parts of the reef are alive and well

Diving in some parts of the Great Barrier Reef may not be the best experience due to coral bleaching and damage from tourism, which have diminished the vibrant colours and diversity of marine life in certain areas.

Scuba diving is not just about getting the best dive- it’s about understanding the need for conservation

Conservation is of the highest importance to us so we want to make the public aware by experiencing the magic of our marine life while taking absolute care to have no impact on the ecosystem.

We update this guide so you can have the best experience diving the GBR but we implore you to become an ambassador of the seas and the planet to raise awareness of the importance of looking after our ecosystems!

Here’s the coral bleaching effect on lizard island below

© Underwater Earth/XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Christophe Bailhache (Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef)

See this interactive map of updated coral bleaching locations on the GBR

Why you should really consider taking the plunge?

Comprising nearly 3,000 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef offers diverse marine life and unique underwater landscapes. From tiny coral polyps to majestic sea turtles, diving here is an immersive experience into nature’s wonders.

What are the different options available for diving?

    1. Day Trips: Depart from cities like Cairns or Port Douglas for a full day of diving.
    2. Liveaboard Trips: Stay overnight on a dive boat for extended diving experiences.
    3. Dive Courses: From beginner to advanced courses, enhance your diving skills.
    4. Speciality Dives: Experience drift diving, wreck diving, or dive with specific marine life.
    5. Private Charters: Customize your diving itinerary for a personalized experience.

Is Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving worth it?

Absolutely! However, factors like weather, water visibility, and reef health can impact your experience. Proper planning and research can ensure a memorable dive.

Plan your trip and be aware that the following can impact your dive experience

  • weather
  • water visibility
  • Location
  • Instruction
  • Tour operator
  • Reef health of your dive spot

To ensure a top-notch dive, it’s crucial to plan ahead and conduct thorough research to tailor your trip accordingly, potentially exceeding your own expectations.

Never Dived before? Don’t worry there are plenty of options for all levels of experience!

Dont worry there are plenty of great places to either learn how to scuba dive and get your certification or have an introductory dive with one of the many fantastic operators that give introductory dives on the great barrier reef.

Will I encounter sharks while diving on the reef?

While sharks are present in the reef, species like white-tip and black-tip reef sharks pose no threat to humans.

Best time of year for diving on the Barrier Reef?

For optimal diving conditions, the best time to scuba dive on the reef is from June to November.

Where to Dive in the Great Barrier Reef? Here are the mainland access points and our recommended tours;


Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays

Nestled in the heart of the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach is a vibrant hub known for its breathtaking islands adorned with white sandy beaches and mesmerising turquoise blue waters.


Cairns serves as an excellent launchpad for your Great Barrier Reef diving adventure. Conveniently situated near Port Douglas, and in close proximity to the Daintree Rainforest – the world’s most ancient rainforest.

Cairns offers a fulfilling itinerary encompassing the best activities, including the must-do, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef.

Best Liveaboard Tours From Cairns

Hers our recommended Liveaboard Tours operating from Cairns


Acting as the entrance to the central part of the reef, Townsville is where you can set off on your diving expedition from Magnetic Island and delve into the mysteries of the SS Yongala, known worldwide as the top wreck dive.


Lastly, located on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Bundaberg is the perfect spot from which to embark on a visit to Lady Elliot Island, Lady Musgrave Island, and Heron Island.

Best Spots to Scuba Dive on the Great Barrier Reef?

Whitsunday Islands


Get the best experience scuba diving the great barrier reef

The Whitsundays, a collection of 74 mostly deserted tropical islands adorned with palm trees, sit nestled within the Great Barrier Reef.

Start your adventure from Airlie Beach on the mainland, hopping on diving expeditions and day-long cruises, or opt for an island stay at resorts such as those on Hamilton or Hayman Island.

The Whitsundays cater to every diving enthusiast, boasting a diverse range of underwater landscapes from plateau-like coral pinnacles to shallow subaqueous cliffs and bommie formations resembling massive boulders.

Besides the fascinating geology, divers will have the opportunity to encounter a diverse marine ecosystem, including majestic manta rays and batfish.

We think the Whitsunday Islands is the ultimate location to experience the reef’s magic- that’s why we decided to operate from here (no bias 🙂 -here are some hidden diving spots for those that want to explore, but not on a tour!



2-12 metres

Diving Depth:

3-15 metres


Rocky shallows up to 6-8 metres, transitioning into coral rubble and silty sand. Conditions: Currents can be strong; plan for a drift dive or stay near the island. Features include intriguing rock formations up to 8 metres, including shallow caves, ledges, and gullies. Minimal coral, but abundant fish life, with sizable cod, sweetlip, and trevally.



2-10 metres

Diving Depth:

3-12 metres


Small, scattered coral heads on a gently sloping silty sand bottom from the beach to 15 metres. Conditions: Ideal for a relaxed shore dive, with most captivating corals near the shore. Fish life is generally small but vibrant. Be aware of strong offshore currents, particularly near the northern end of the beach. Snorkelling: Possible, but can be deep at high tide.



2-12 metres

Diving Depth:

2-12 metres


Shallow water up to 6 metres with a good hard coral cover and patches of sand. Deeper areas (below 6 metres) predominantly feature small coral heads, coral rubble, and silty sand. Conditions: Best diving on either side of the bay’s entrance. The reefs are relatively shallow, featuring beautiful, large plate coral. A small wall descends from the top of the reef to 6 metres, with scattered coral bommies down to 12 metres. Ledges and gullies are ample. Fish life is average, though larger sweetlip and cod can be found under the ledges. Inside the bay, current is minimal; however, beware of strong currents at the entrance. Snorkelling: Excellent, due to shallow coral.


Visibility: 3-15 metres

Diving Depth: 3-18 metres

Terrain: Excellent coral cover with scattered small bommies and sand patches in shallow water, sloping gradually from 3 metres to 6 metres. A good wall down to 12-18 metres then coral rubble and silty sand. Conditions: A highly diverse site featuring a maze of captivating coral bommies in shallow water. Quality coral and wall dive from 6 metres to 18 metres on the reef edge. Plentiful gullies and ledges to explore and abundant fish life of various sizes. Be vigilant for manta rays from May to September. Current typically isn’t an issue except during spring tides. Snorkelling: Best in the shallows near the beach, although suitable for more adventurous snorkellers who prefer deeper areas on the reef edge.



3-15 metres

Diving Depth:

5-18 metres


Varied terrain with coral outcrops and massive boulders set on coral rubble and sand. Conditions: A unique dive amongst giant rock slabs, with large coral bommies at 5-15 metres contributing to the site’s diversity. Excellent large fish life, including trevally, mackerel, barracuda, and occasional sharks. Currents can be strong near the point. Snorkelling: Not recommended due to depth.



5-15 metres

Diving Depth:

2-12 metres


Excellent shallow coral cover (6-8 metres) interspersed with numerous small canyons. Small bommies and sand-coral rubble from 8 to 15 metres. Conditions: A beautiful shallow dive and snorkelling site. Coral cover is characterized by large plates, creating small canyons and ledges for exploration. Abundant small, friendly reef fish. Access can be challenging due to exposure to winds and currents. Snorkelling: Excellent due to shallow coral.



3-15 metres

Diving Depth:

3-18 metres

Good coral cover with patches of coral rubble and silty sand. Conditions: Excellent coral and fish life, particularly along the shallow ledge that extends to Flat Rock. Plate corals dominate the shallow water. The ledge drops vertically with the wall featuring numerous gullies and small caves. Many colourful soft corals can be found at 10 metres, hence the site name. Large wrasse, cod, and sweetlip are found at depth. Snorkelling: Excellent for viewing shallow corals but beware of strong currents.



2-10 metres

Diving Depth:

5-12 metres

Coral cover with large patches of coral rubble and silty sand. Conditions: This well-liked bareboat anchorage offers coral outcrops with shallow walls. Plenty of small, colourful fish are present. The best of the bommies is in the centre of the bay, though hard to locate at high tide. Tidal currents can be strong when moving away from the bay edge. Snorkelling: Possible along the bay edge or just off the beach.



2-10 metres

Diving Depth:

2-12 metres

Good coral cover in shallow water, with scattered bommies at 7-12 metres. Conditions: This popular dive site’s quality can fluctuate based on visibility. It’s frequently chosen during northerlies when other popular sites are untenable. Expect a relatively shallow dive through a maze of coral bommies, which form shallow canyons, ledges, and swim-throughs. The fish life is medium in size and quite good. Snorkelling: Visibility can be affected by the tide. Best during neap tides.

Whitsundays Mainland Shore Diving Spots

Cape Gloucester


2-12 metres

Diving Depth:

3-12 metres


Beach shore dive from Cape Gloucester resort 40 minutes drive from Airlie Beach, transitioning into coral rubble and silty sand. Conditions:  Features include intriguing rock formations up to 8 metres, including shallow caves, ledges, and gullies. Minimal coral, but abundant fish life, with sizable cod, sweetlip, and trevally.



3-15 metres

Diving Depth:

2-10 metres


Beach shore-dive from our diving spot in Bowen is 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from Airlie Beach. Varied terrain with coral outcrops and massive boulders set on coral rubble and sand.

SS Yongala Shipwreck

Approximately an hour’s journey to the south of Cairns, near Townsville, lies the serene haven of Magnetic Island. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to investigate the age-old wreckage of the SS Yongala.

Sunk in 1911, it stands as Australia’s most substantial and well-preserved historical wreck. Encounter a variety of marine creatures, including manta and eagle rays, turtles, and sharks, that have claimed this emblematic structure as their habitat.

Owing to legislative protections, the wreck can only be visited via day trips facilitated by a licensed operator, such as Yongala Dive.

Museum of Underwater Art


scuba dive the museum of underwater art near townsville

Why simply stroll through an ordinary museum when you have the opportunity to swim amidst art pieces at The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA)? Immerse yourself in a breathtaking marine universe by visiting MOUA’s Coral Greenhouse sculpture at John Brewer Reef, situated off the Townsville coast.

This exhibit features a 9m (30ft) stainless steel greenhouse structure, ingeniously designed to counteract the sea’s undercurrents. Although a snorkel glance can provide a view, the best way to appreciate all its exquisite details is through a full diving experience.

Several dive tour operators, such as ProDive Magnetic Island, are available to guide you through this extraordinary aquatic art display.

Agincourt Reef


agincourt reef

Situated near Cairns, at the northern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef, Agincourt Reef is an ideal location even for novice divers.

At this site, you have the opportunity to snorkel or dive along the brink of the continental shelf, amidst a vibrant swarm of technicolour fish, sea turtles, and occasional reef sharks. Experience the awe-inspiring Blue Wonder wall, a coral garden with a vertical descent of over 40m (131ft).

Both Cairns and Port Douglas serve as excellent bases for diving excursions to Agincourt Reef. While most tours typically set off from Port Douglas, arrangements can be made for pick-up from accommodations in Cairns.

Capricorn and Bunker Reefs


Hawksbill sea turtle while scuba diving

Venture into the Southern region of the Great Barrier Reef and experience a dive into one of the world’s natural marvels, encountering local nesting turtles, unique bird species, and migrating whales in the Capricorn and Bunker reefs.

The water here is fairly shallow, bustling with a variety of reef fish, turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, and a vast assortment of marine invertebrates. This location also offers the distinctive pleasure of snorkelling unguided straight from the shore, letting you float amidst the enchanting aquatic life.

Close by, you’ll find the opportunity to glide alongside large fish and through colourful coral canyons near Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave islands. Be sure not to overlook the marine turtles which nest and hatch every evening from November through May at the Mon Repos Conservation Park.

Tangalooma Wrecks


Tangalooma wrecks for scuba diving

Just north of Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island, you’ll find the Tangalooma Wrecks, a collection of ships resting on the eastern edge of Moreton Bay.

As you descend towards these vessels, you’ll observe the formation of coral within and around the wrecks, which now serve as a sanctuary for over 100 species of fish, and occasionally, dolphins, wobbegongs, and dugongs. Anticipate sightings of loggerhead turtles, vibrant reef fish and corals, and even the elusive grey nurse shark.

Off Mooloolaba’s coast, you can navigate through large coral structures and caves at Flinders Reef, or discover the marine life that has claimed the decommissioned HMAS Brisbane as their home.

Essential Information for Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef:

  1. Diving Experience:

      • If you have never dived before, there are many reputable dive operators in Queensland that can provide you with an unforgettable first-time diving experience.
  2. Suitability for Diving:

      • Not everyone is suitable for scuba diving due to certain medical conditions. Consult with a diving professional to determine if you are fit for diving.
  3. Competency in the Water:

      • Assess your swimming skills to determine your competency level: non-swimmer, beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert.
  4. Pool Practice:

      • Before starting a scuba diving course, practice essential skills in a swimming pool, including familiarizing yourself with scuba gear, breathing and buoyancy control, regulator and mask clearing, emergency ascent, buddy skills, underwater communication, and swimming maneuvers.
  5. Planning Your Trip:

      • Choose the best time of year (June to November) for optimal diving conditions.
      • Select a suitable diving location based on your skill level and interests.
      • Research and book a reputable dive operator that offers tailored diving packages.
  6. Preparing for Your Dive:

      • Ensure you have a valid scuba diving certification or consider completing an Open Water Diver course.
      • Get the right equipment, either through rental or by bringing your own well-fitting gear.
      • Review safety protocols, familiarize yourself with the buddy system, hand signals, and emergency procedures.
  7. During Your Dive:

      • Follow your dive guide’s instructions and pay attention to the pre-dive briefing.
      • Practice good buoyancy control to protect the coral reef ecosystem.
      • Be a responsible diver by respecting marine life and refraining from touching or disturbing them.
      • Take photographs responsibly, using a red filter for better color accuracy and avoiding flash photography.
  8. After Your Dive:

      • Log your dive to keep a record of your experience and track your progress.
      • Share your experiences and photos with others, and consider joining online diving communities.
      • Support conservation efforts and spread awareness about protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Certified Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Experience the awe-inspiring spectacle of certified diving at the edge of Australia’s continental shelf. As a certified diver, you can partake in up to two breathtaking dives, each lasting around 40 minutes. This is your ultimate opportunity to explore the exceptional marine life of the great barrier reef renowned for its superb visibility. For your utmost safety, enjoyment, and enriched experiences, our professional instructors accompany all dives at no additional cost.

Clownfish Scuba Dive in the Great Barrier Reef Captivating Close-up of a Clownfish Engage with the vibrant life under the waves!

Certified Great Barrier Reef Dive Adventure Dive into the magnificent world of the Great Barrier Reef!

Clownfish and Anemone – An Underwater Symphony Marvel at the harmony between clownfish and anemones!

Certified Diving in the Great Barrier Reef Delve into the extraordinary underwater wonderland!

If you’re a certified diver sharing this journey with non-diving companions, there’s no need to worry! While you dive into the vibrant underwater world brimming with exotic marine life, your companions can enjoy a range of other platform activities. They can even opt for an introductory scuba dive.

We provide all necessary equipment, including wetsuits and prescription masks (if needed). Please note, certified divers must hold an internationally recognized SCUBA certificate card.

The subsequent details are offered as a simple reference guide:

Health Issues:

Certain health problems could restrict your ability to dive. If you have any concerns, it’s advisable to consult with your physician. All diving activities have a minimum age requirement of 12 years.

Certified Diving:

Every diver needs to provide proof of diving certification and medical fitness for diving.

Beginner Divers:

A medical questionnaire needs to be filled out for assessment.

Post-Dive Flying:

A single dive requires a minimum waiting period of 12 hours before flying. For multiple dives within the same day, a 24-hour interval is suggested.

General Fitness:

Divers should have a reasonable level of physical fitness to cope with the environmental stresses of being underwater. The environmental factors that place a physiological strain on the diver include:

  • Exertion required for propulsion through the surrounding water
  • Heat loss to water that is generally colder than body temperature
  • Breathing gas of compressed density
  • Changes in the cardiorespiratory system from using underwater breathing gear
  • Changes in the gas volume and pressure within air spaces in the body eg; ears, stomach, etc
  • Introduction into the body of gases that can have toxic, narcotic, stimulatory or gas solubility effects on bodily functions.
  • The human body, in reasonable condition and without injury or illness, can deal with the effects of most of these factors.

Flying After Diving

The pressure of diving causes nitrogen to go into solution in the blood, and it is the decrease in pressure as the diver returns to the surface that causes this nitrogen to come back out of solution over time and to bubble. A rapid ascent to the surface can cause complications as it represents too fast a transition across a pressure gradient for the body to effectively compensate for. Ascending to a high altitude after the dive is simply a continuation of your post-dive ascent to the surface and can also lead to decompression sickness.

It’s recommended that you should wait at least 12 hours after a single dive, or 24 hours after multiple dives within the no-decompression limits before you travel to more than 300m (or 1,000 feet) above sea level. Bear in mind that driving over a mountain range would also put you over this suggested altitude limit.


Drinking alcohol before and during diving trips endangers not only yourself but your diving buddy. Alcohol reduces the ability of the individual to process information and impairs their ability in terms of:

  • Reaction time
  • Visual tracking performance
  • Concentrated attention
  • Ability to process information in divided attention tasks
  • Perception (Judgment)
  • The execution of psychomotor tasks.

Alcohol also cause dehydration which is considered to be one of the prime causes of decompression illness. Do not consume alcohol before diving or water activities.

Diving regulations and requirements in Australia vary from those in other countries. Here’s what you need to know about the rules in Queensland:

Introductory or Resort Dives: A Medical Questionnaire needs to be completed. Answering YES to any of the questions won’t necessarily prohibit you from diving but it will indicate the necessity for a medical examination by a physician, following Australian Medical Standard AS4005-1, before diving.

Experienced/Certified Divers: A Medical Questionnaire may need to be filled out before diving. While this isn’t legally required, it’s done in your best interest.

The questionnaire aims to identify if a doctor’s examination is necessary. You might have a pre-existing condition that doesn’t prevent you from diving in your home country, but Australian law might forbid. Alternatively, a new condition might have developed since you became certified to dive, potentially affecting your safety underwater.

If you respond YES to any conditions listed in the Medical Questionnaire, we advise you to consult a physician for a further assessment. If you’re in Australia, it’s best to visit a local physician to ensure the examination aligns with Australian Standards (AS4005.1).

Scuba diving is thrilling but demanding. For safe diving, you shouldn’t be extremely overweight or unfit. Conditions can sometimes make diving strenuous. You need to have healthy respiratory and circulatory systems. All your body spaces must be normal and healthy. Individuals with heart problems, a current cold or congestion, epilepsy, asthma, severe medical conditions, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, should refrain from diving. If you’re on medication, check with your doctor before participating in this program.

Dive Medical Questionnaire: This Medical Questionnaire is designed to identify if a doctor’s examination is required before engaging in recreational diving. A positive response doesn’t automatically disqualify you from diving. However, it indicates a pre-existing condition that might affect your safety while diving and requires a physician’s advice.

Respond to the following questions about your past and present medical history with YES or NO. If you’re uncertain, answer YES. If any of these conditions apply to you, we advise you to consult a physician before scuba diving. Your instructor will provide a PADI Medical Statement and Guidelines for Recreational Scuba Diver’s Physical Examination to take to the physician.

The questionnaire covers a range of health conditions including but not limited to:

  • Asthma
  • fainting
  • chronic bronchitis
  • chronic sinus conditions
  • chest surgery
  • recurrent ear problems when flying
  • epilepsy
  • diabetes
  • tuberculosis
  • brain
  • spinal cord or nervous disorders
  • heart disease
  • collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
  • ear surgery
  • breathlessness
  • chronic ear discharge or infection
  • high blood pressure
  • perforated eardrum
  • recent illness or surgery
  • current medication intake (excluding oral contraceptives)
  • alcohol intake within 8 hours prior to diving
  • pregnancy.

It’s crucial to understand that concealing any condition incompatible with safe diving could risk your health or life. Also, remember that you shouldn’t fly within 12 hours after a single dive or within 18 hours after multiple dives (24 hours recommended).