Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching Port Douglas

The Great Barrier Reef is alive! There’s been no shortage of bad press and some seriously misleading media coverage.

Rest assured the Reef is still amazing. Coral bleaching has occurred. It’s a natural event actually. But the Reef is big and the bleaching is comparatively small. There’s still many beautiful locations to explore with ABC Snorkel Charters.

With our small vessel and roaming permit, we’ll take you to some pristine snorkelling sites on Port Douglas’ Outer Reef. Where you’ll explore coral gardens, abundant with life and colour. Our Reef is healthy and beautiful!

You need only look at our photos, Facebook and Instagram pages to see that the Reef is still an incredible place.


The GBR a truly natural paradise

Has the Great Barrier Reef suffered from coral bleaching in recent years? Yes, there’s definitely been some damage, but the Reef covers a massive area and mortality has not been uniform. Media claims that 93% of the Reef is dead is simply not true. Many areas remain absolutely stunning. A question we often get asked from guests, is ‘what exactly is coral bleaching and how does it happen?’. To answer that, you need to understand the structure of the coral itself, how it feeds and why rising sea temperatures are a contributing factor to coral bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef’s Corals

Coral is made up of three things. An animal part, which is called a polyp, which forms colonies that we look at as the coral structures. These polyps have skeletons made of Calcium Carbonate, or limestone. They filter-feed nutrients from the water; however, tropical water is very nutrient-poor and they can only produce about 10% of their energy needs in this way.

The other 90% of their energy comes from a symbiotic algae called Zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium). This, like all plants in the world, makes energy from the sun and it shares that energy with the coral polyp. It is found living inside the tissues of the polyps and is also responsible for the beautiful colours of the corals.

Coral Bleaching ~ Its Causes & Outcomes

A number of factors contribute to coral bleaching. Changes in UV rays, visibility, salinity, pH or temperature, the last of which has been the major cause over the last few years. When the water temperature gets too warm, the algae becomes over productive, which results in an increase in toxic waste products. These products damage the coral polyps, which leaves them in a bit of a dilemma. Maintain the algae, while it’s causing harm, or expel it, even though it gives them 90% of their energy.

The lesser of two evils is to expel the algae and they do this by either exocytosis, or digestion. Since the algae contains the colourful pigments, the colour also disappears from the coral, leaving them white. Hence ‘coral bleaching’.

Can The Reef Recover From Bleaching?

In the early stages the coral is still alive, still producing 10% of its own energy. It’s starving, but still alive, something the media have not been good at reporting. Bleached coral does not mean dead coral. In good conditions, some species can survive like this for over two months (although most species will only last a few weeks).

If conditions return to normal, the coral polyps can acquire more algae and continue living. However, if this doesn’t happen quick enough, then they develop rapid tissue necrosis and eventually die. So, as you can see, there’s more to the coral bleaching story than has been widely reported and said.

I am honestly so happy we decided to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas for a snorkel tour. All the staff were amazing. Lizzie who was our snorkel instructor was a gem. She had all the equipment ready to go for me and helped me get ready for all the swims. She was constantly making sure I was alright. All three sites were beautiful. The coral was lovely and there was lots of fish to look at. Lizzie was great at pointing things out and explaining what we were looking at, as well as answering everyone’s questions. The amount of swim time was longer than I anticipated which was fantastic. My husband has been to the reef twice before and said that this experience was by far the best he has been on. I just want to say thank you for helping me achieve a lifelong dream (that I hadn’t done in the past due to my motion sickness), it was 100% worth it. I would recommend you guys 1,000 times over.

Rebecca Pandeli

The skipper had amazingly good knowledge about the area and shared his knowledge and insights with us! Where we snorkelled, the biodiversity and marine life is simply abundant! Could not believe we saw so many whitetip reef sharks, some manta rays, some dolphins, a moray eel, such a diverse variety of fishes! Our instructor was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the marine life! We had the most awesome time snorkelling with ABC Snorkel Charters! Thank you so much to the entire crew for making this such a memorable & awesome snorkelling trip for my family! We love Port Douglas & the Outer Reefs!!!

Angi Yeo

Great crew, with huge amount of knowledge and love for the reef. They took wonderful care of us and the whole tour felt super personalised. We were not another cog in the reef machine. The small boat numbers made all the difference. A little more expensive than some of the other places, but the service is outstanding and worth every penny. You also get photos at no extra charge and the underwater camera ones are epic! Stop searching and book with these guys.

Jenni Mildon

Pure Joy! Thoroughly enjoyed our day of snorkelling. I had never snorkelled before (love swimming in the ocean, a little frightened of what's under the surface). Sam's instructions were excellent! Although the conditions weren't ideal (a little windy and choppy), I felt completely safe and comfortable. It was an overcast day, so it was amazing to discover the contrast of colour, corals were purple, pink and yellow, brilliantly coloured fish teeming underwater. We had three relaxed long sessions in different locations. No rushing and lots of space to explore, enjoy and learn. The equipment and the boat were clean and comfortable. Crew was friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming. Really great to be on a small boat and feel close to the water with only 9 other people. Highly recommend it!


ABC Snorkel Charters are wonderful. They are very professional and made our time on the reef very enjoyable. It was a day to remember on and under the water. The crew provided us with endless information about the reef which was awesome. GREAT photos, crew, equipment, views, thanks guys it was the best trip on the Great Barrier Reef!

Kim Withrow

Beautiful and Unforgettable. An awesome day from beginning to end. The ABC team is so friendly and professional, they really look after you. Our kids love going to the reef and this was our best trip ever. If you love small groups, stunning reef spots and personal service, then look no further. Five Stars!

Allison F

Personal service and low numbers. The crew are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, the boat is comfortable and well put together. I love the low numbers and the flexibility of reef sites. The visibility was outstanding, even for Feb, and the marine life was abundant. Anyone who says the reef is in bad shape, hasn't been to the GBR recently and if you are heading up here, ABC is definitely a fun day.

Stephanie Jane Milne

Had a great day snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef today. The crew were friendly and informative and made sure that everyone was looked after and didn’t miss anything. We saw loads of brilliant fish and coral; my highlight was seeing the white tip reef shark!

Lisa-Marie Melville

Giving a big hug and thank you to Wayne and the whole ABC team for a wonderful few days on the reef. I did a ton of research prior to my trip, knowing many companies offer trips to the outer reef, but I'm so glad I went with ABC. With only 10 people on the boat, the entire day was personalized and very catered to individual needs, such as marine life questions and photo equipment. It was great meeting the variety of travellers as well! Couldn't have asked for a better team of people to visit the GBR with. My heart is so full. Thanks ABC.

Elsa Hsieh

ABC was phenomenal! They were very friendly, accommodating, eager to show us hidden treasures of the reef, and just a great, safety conscious crew! We had a wonderful, life changing trip to the GBR and ABC was part of the reason why! Andy is so knowledgeable about all things reef - he’s amazing!

LeAnn Taylor Selby

To the guys and gal at ABC Snorkel Charters, thanks for the best day ever. Would highly recommend your tour to everyone. The reef is alive and well and small groups, is the best way to see it.

Karen Burgess

This is the best experience you could have if you want to go out on a small boat with caring, professional and friendly crew. Jim, John, Alex and Kech were brilliant. You probably pay a bit more than one of the big boats who take large groups of tourists out but if you are a purist this is the one for you. Thanks to everyone (including Lizzie) who I corresponded with by email while still in the UK. The boss should be very proud of the ABC team.

Deborah Margaret Lee

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