The Knowledge: How to respect the Reef

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef is spearheaded by Andy Ridley, creator of the Earth Hour global movement. The group is a network of individuals, organisations and businesses working to conserve the Great Barrier Reef and reefs around the world. Become a Citizen at


Carbon-offset your flight up to the reef. Hardly anyone does it, but it's one of the coolest things you can do, as it's not a massive cost, yet it makes a huge difference. Climate change is the greatest threat to the reef, so we all need to do everything we can to reduce our emissions footprint.


Research the tour operator taking you out on the reef. It's easy to check who's got eco-certification, but beyond that, it's about who's giving the best, most knowledgeable nature experience. It's a good test of an operator if they have a Master Reef Guide on board, and if you do a snorkel safari with an MRG or a marine biologist, you'll see what's healthy, what's damaged, and you'll come back more informed, and therefore a better advocate for the reef.


Look and enjoy, but don't touch the reef or its inhabitants. Hopefully, if you're with a good tour operator, they'll explain how to snorkel safely, respectfully and without damaging the coral. Also, use reef-friendly sunscreen that doesn't contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can damage corals. If you don't have reef-safe sunscreen, put your regular sunscreen on at least half an hour before you swim and let it soak into your skin. Otherwise, it just washes straight off onto the reef. I put my kids in full sun suits, which protect them not only from stingers in the summer, but sunburn as well.


Aim for a net zero-emissions lifestyle and say no to single-use anything. Globally, 91 per cent of all stuff produced is used only once, and then ends up in the atmosphere, oceans or landfill. So when you make a purchase – from a car to a shirt – ask yourself: what kind of impact did it take to make it, what impact does it have while using it, and when you're done with it, what impact will it have afterwards? Will it sit in landfill, or be used by someone else? Some ways are the most simple: think Spotify instead of buying a CD – it's not an unreasonable ask.


When you've been to the reef, tell the world what you've seen. The story of the reef is incredibly nuanced: it's an enormous ecosystem, about the same length of the entire west coast of the US, so while parts have been damaged, other parts are amazing. The truth is important. I've been out to Cockatoo Reef, 200 kilometres offshore, which is famous for its Blue Hole, and I've never seen better coral, while Flynn Reef and Milne Reef are two of my favourites for day trips off Cairns. At the southern end, Lady Elliott and Heron Island are extraordinary places. Oh, and join the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef.