Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef

great barrier reef leather coral

The water clarity, shallow reefs, and abundant sea life make the Great Barrier Reef an amazing snorkeling experience, topping most people’s bucket list.

As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, Australia, and comprises over 2,900 different reefs and 900 islands. With its warm waters and lush wildlife, the GBR is the top destination for divers and snorkelers from all around the world. It can even be viewed from outer space! Now THAT is a big reef.

Typically, the day excursions go to the reefs closest to the port. Visiting those reefs, you deal with crowds and bleached corals. The company we chose took us 3.5 hours of sailing to the Milln Reef, where there are great snorkeling and scuba spots. You can see details of our experience Scuba Dive Milln Reef.

milln reef snorkel josh
Observing sea life while snorkeling in the calm waters of Milln Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 different species of tropical fish. It would take multiple excursions to view just a small percentage of those. Research the locations and what it has to offer before choosing where to spend your time. Here, at Milln Reef, the shallow pools host numerous schools of fish and are easily seen while snorkeling.

clown fish coral milln reef
Large colorful corals support multiple families of clownfish. [photo credit Ann-So Reimers]

The vibrant red tomato clownfish is one variety of tropical fish found at the reef. They love to live in the branches of the brightly colored coral, particularly the staghorn type. Snorkeling beside these remarkable structures make you feel like you are swimming in a large aquarium built to please the eye.

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Snorkeling with a sea turtle at Milln in the Great Barrier Reef.
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Snorkeling alongside large sea turtles on the great barrier reef.

The calm flight-like stroke of the sea turtles, pushing their way through the clear blue waters, creates an oceanic dance of elegance and beauty. If you are lucky enough, you will encounter a curious turtle who will, in turn, spend time observing you while you observe him. Six different sea turtle species are found at the Great Barrier Reef and are under the endangered species protection list. Fitzroy Island, Turtle Bay, and Green Island are just a few locations where you can find sea turtles near Cairns.

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The water clarity was amazing on the Great Barrier Reef.
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Dazzling views at the Great Barrier Reef location, Milln.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system. With over 400 different types of coral, it creates a living majestic foundation for sealife to inhabit. Enjoy observing different textures of the hard colorful corals and soft flowing corals that create towers and walls on the seafloor.

great barrier reef snorkel free dive
While snorkeling it’s always fun to free dive for a closer look at the sea life. [photo credit Ann-So Reimers]
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Gorgeous views beneath the waters at Milln Reef.

“The fish seem so much larger here!” says a teen with plenty of snorkeling experience. Along the flourishing Golden Coast of Australia are schools of healthy and thriving fish. In this natural ecosystem, the GBR fish are part of the food chain and regularly help maintain and clean larger creatures and corals. Ranging in colors from bright blues, purples, yellows to reds, visitors are amazed at the design of these cold-blooded creatures. Some even camouflage themselves within the sands and corals to help protect them from predators. It is never a “miss” when snorkeling in this natural world wonder.

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You can see lots of parrot fish munching on the coral all over Milln Reef.
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Snorkeling among a large variety of reef fish at Milln Reef.

One thing to consider when booking a tour with scuba and snorkel options is the location may not be optimal for both. As part of our Coral Sea Dreaming Overnight Experience, we had plenty of opportunities for amazing snorkeling and scuba on the Great Barrier Reef. If you tend to get seasick, some guided touring companies offer to take you to sandy cays or islands where you can walk into the ocean from a beach.


  • Pick the optimal time of the year to visit the GBR. In November, the coral will spawn, giving a firework-like show of coral releasing their fertilized egg bundles into the water.
  • Be sure to check for the arrival of the deadly box jellyfish that swarm the reef. They usually arrive between November-March.
  • From June to October, the warm water is clear from lack of rain, and the migrating Humpback Whales bring their calves there to nurse.
  • Before you go, learn about some of the different species of corals and other sea life you may encounter. It will help imprint the memories and be like a scavenger hunt while you are snorkeling.
  • Make sure you have a high-quality underwater digital camera or check to see if you can rent one from the company you cruise with. You don’t want to miss out on capturing this underwater wonderland.
  • If needing a size of gear that is uncommon, inquire with the touring charter to see what is available. We had to purchase a US Men’s size 15 fins to bring with us, or else our son would have missed out.
  • Be responsible and help take care of the reef. Picking up after yourself, using reef-friendly sunscreen, and not touching the wildlife will help preserve this natural wonder for many years to come.