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Eco certified tour operators helping to regenerate the Great Barrier Reef

Discover how eco certified tourism operators are contributing to the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. 

There are few eco certified experiences quite as humbling as drifting over the world’s largest coral reef system, turtles bobbing all around, dolphins dancing in your wake, and tropical fish gliding over car-sized coral reef bommies.

The sheer immensity of the Great Barrier Reef takes your breath away – it spans some 2,300 kilometres from the tip of the Cape York Peninsula in the north to Bundaberg in the south, covering 344,400 square kilometres of Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland. That’s an area around the same size as the whole of Japan, Germany, or Malaysia.

And then there’s the marine life: 10 per cent of global coral gardens and the same proportion of the world’s fish species – including 30 types of whales, dolphins, and porpoises – call this part of Australia home. Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtles come here to breed, alongside 215 different types of birds.

Snorkelling in Opal Reef
Snorkelling in Opal Reef © Johnny Gaskell

Doing your part for the reef

A visit to the Great Barrier Reef becomes a meaningful contribution to conservation with the ‘Environmental Management Charge’, whereby simply booking a tour, you support daily operations, and research, and help maintain its status as the world’s best-managed reef. Witnessing its beauty not only fosters global appreciation but also encourages ongoing protection efforts. Explore the reef with one of many operators engaged in coral restoration projects, and dive into hands-on activities, such as conducting reef surveys or coral planting. For those who prefer observation, hop on a glass-bottom boat over the MARS stars to learn about coral stabilisation and its role in the reef’s regeneration.

The reef is teeming with diverse marine life
The reef is teeming with diverse marine life © Frankland Island Reef Cruises

To deepen your understanding of the reef, turn to certified Master Reef Guides who offer an expert and enriching experience with storytelling and interpretation skills honed through rigorous training. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which contributes to the protection of Australian sea turtles, with tour proceeds supporting their care. The Great Barrier Reef is a natural marvel, and we can all do our part to ensure we retain its remarkable biodiversity and breathtaking beauty.

Tropical North Queensland’s savvy tour operators are working together to preserve its beauty for years to come – and visitors can actively contribute to its preservation, too. Learn more about these conservation leaders below. 

Green Island, a tropical coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef
Green Island, a tropical coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef © Jesse Lindemann

Eco-certified tour operators

Passions of Paradise

The Passions of Paradise catamaran is an idyllic way to explore the reef from Cairns, slowing down when it’s time to splash about amid the marine menagerie. But the eco-conscious company offers much more than transport across the water. Since 2019 it has been a partner on the government-funded Coral Nurture Program, designed to unite tourism and science to protect this World Heritage Site.

In addition to planting coral nurseries, Passions encourages guests to get involved in the Eye on the Reef monitoring program, a citizen science movement that allows researchers to stay in touch with reef conditions via input from those cruising, snorkelling, or diving around it. You can sign up to be part of the action on an eco reef tour, which also sees you monitor reef health and plant coral in the company of a Master Reef Guide aka the world’s leading reef experts, interpreters, and storytellers.

regrowing coral reefs at the Coral Nurseries Dive Site
Passions of Paradise Coral Nurseries Dive Site at Hastings Reef © Tourism and Events Queensland

Cairns Premier Great Barrier Reef & Island Tours

Husband and wife team, Perry Jones and Taryn Agius operate Cairns Premier Reef & Island Tours. A passionate partner of the Coral Nurture Program since 2019, the duo’s boats Ocean Free and Ocean Freedom offer a front-row seat to this maritime initiative while ensuring their reef sites continue to be protected through a parade of eco-forward projects captained by Master Reef Guides including, crown-of-thorns eradication, Eye on the Reef surveys and annual contributions to turtle rehabilitation.

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel

Exploring with your head underwater is the only real way to comprehend the immensity and environmental significance of the reef. Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel‘s Indigenous rangers can explain the cultural signifigance of he Great Barrier Reef, before revealing the treasures that lie beneath the glossy surface. By joining a tour with Traditional Custodians, you’ll learn creation stories that have shaped both land and sea country, along with a chance to immerse in cultural dance, song and ceremony.

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel have Advanced Ecotourism Certification, a badge of honour showing the operators’ commitment to have a minimal impact on the environment and help protect and preserve the destinations and communities they explore. When it launched, Australia’s Eco Tourism Certification was a world first. It remains a pioneering system to identify responsible tourism companies and (as of 2018) destinations.

Learning about Indigneous culture with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel
Learning about Indigenous culture with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel © Tourism and Events Queensland


Less than 70 kilometres north in Cairns, Port Douglas, Sailaway has been awarded just about every green tick imaginable. They have an Advanced Ecotourism Certification, are a Climate Change Leader and are also one of the five tourism companies partaking in the Coral Reef Nurture Program. It contributes $20 from each passenger ticket to offset carbon emissions and renewable reforestation.

Names to know

  • Cairns Aquarium is a vital contributor to reef research and development, with an on-site turtle hospital open to small groups.
  • Wavelength Cruises pioneered the use of coral clips to propagate and plant coral fragments.
  • Great Barrier Reef Legacy has also created the world’s first living coral park to preserve the reef’s coral at the Cairns Aquarium. The project will safeguard corals so there are specimens available for reef research and restoration efforts. A partnership between researchers and tour operators, the Coral Nurture Program, also allows operators to collect coral fragments to propagate in underwater nurseries and then plant on the reef.
  • Coral Expeditions offer small-group, multi-day cruises around the reef and beyond, with naturalists and expert guides on board.
  • Frankland Island Reef Cruises take you snorkelling around the dreamy archipelago with a marine biologist and Master Reef Guide.
  • Reef Magic Cruises cruise to an outer-reef pontoon for a day of snorkelling and diving with this Advanced Ecotourism Certified company’s marine biologists.
  • Sunlover Reef Cruises visits Moore Reef with experienced marine biologists. They can also drop you at Fitzroy Island.
  • Mike Ball Dive Expeditions take you on scuba expeditions while staying on a liveaboard, with ship staff and guests updating reef reports en route. One expedition is to swim with minkes.
  • Calypso Reef Cruises dive and snorkel tours visit the Low Isles and blissful Agincourt Reef. The company had Advanced Ecotourism Certification.
Frankland Islands great barrier reef climate
Frankland Islands © Sean Scott, Tourism and Events Queensland

What is coral?

Coral is the name for marine invertebrates that form reefs. Multiple individual polyps make up the underwater colonies. Coral reefs as the basis for entire marine ecosystems. It is vital to preserve coral reefs as they support healthy marine environments. Coral is becoming endangered through climate change. Given their various benefit to both humans and marine life, authorities have adopted different coral reef restoration methods and methods for regrowing coral reefs.

Why are Coral Reefs Important?

Coral reefs provide habitats and the basis of marine ecosystems. They also protect coastlines from storms and erosion, absorb carbon dioxide and purify water. Studying coral reefs have led to medical breakthroughs in the treatment of asthma, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. Coral also aids in climate tracking. Their limestone deposits provide records of weather patterns and coral growth. The Great Barrier Reef is an irreplaceable Australian marine ecosystem and the biggest reef in the world. The tourism industry brings in over three million visitors per year, aiding in important research and conservation activity.

Great Barrier Reef Climate

The Great Barrier Reef has a tropical climate. The skies are mostly blue and the ocean temperatures are around 22 degrees Celsius. Daily temperatures range around 18 – 31 degrees Celsius. In summer the Great Barrier Reef experiences higher humidity and rainfall while in winter days are sunny with low humidity.

Great Barrier Reef - humphead wrasse and worldwide coral
© Tourism and Events Queensland/Gabriel Guzman

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