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What is the difference between the Outer Great Barrier Reef and the Inner Fringing Reef?

​The Outer Great Barrier Reef and Inner Fringing Reefs are both part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the east coast of Northern Queensland and stretches over 2,300km. While the two types of reefs are similar, they also host an abundance of differences that make them both unique and beautiful in their own way.

The inner fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are the reefs you find around the islands, such as the Whitsunday Islands. They often have a lot of soft corals and provide nursery conditions for small juvenile fish and have a huge variety of marine life. They usually have 5 meters of visibility on average and have a lot of soft corals and smaller fish species, but you will also find larger marine species such as trevallies, Maori Wrasse, green turtles and reef sharks. The fringing reefs are much closer to the mainland, making them more accessible and take a lot less time to get to, which make them great for day trips or overnight boat trips.

Many of the tours in the Whitsundays visit the Whitsundays Islands and the inner fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, rather than venturing to the Outer Great Barrier Reef, since they have beautiful snorkelling but take much less time to get to. Because the fringing reefs are so protected by the islands, they tend to be ideal for beginners or for those looking for relaxed diving or snorkelling, since they have calm waters and accessible beaches. There is an increased chance of seeing wildlife like turtles, dugongs and stingrays since they have less space to run away!

On the other hand, we have the Outer Great Barrier Reef, which is a few hours offshore and is isolated from the mainland. The visibility is generally a little better than the fringing reefs since they don’t have as much runoff from the islands with average visibility reaching 15 metres. They have a lot of the same fish, with some larger species, and have a lot more hard corals than soft corals. The downside is how far they are from the mainland, so aren't ideal if you’re short on time. While some boats trips do venture to the Outer Reef from the Whitsundays, the commute is a much longer time commitment. The upside is that there are no islands, and it is all open ocean so you get a completely difference experience than snorkelling or diving at the inner fringing reefs, and you’ll see a different variety of marine life. From the Whitsundays, you will visit Bait Reef or Hardy reef during your boat tour, which are stunning for diving and snorkelling.

All parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are unique and beautiful in their own way and all are worth visiting, it all depends on what you want to achieve during your visit to the Whitsundays and what kind of boat tour you are hoping to have. Make sure you’re picking the right tour for you and know that no matter which type of reef you snorkel in, you will see beautiful and unique marine life.

Sam Clapham
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