Reef walking

Reef walking is a great way to explore areas of reef uncovered at low tide. You can interact closely with the marine environment and discover a variety of marine plants and animals. Although reef walking is fun, special care is required as there can be negative impacts on the reef. Preparation and planning for a reef walk are the first steps to avoid reef damage, and ensure a successful outing. A good reef walk is dependent on tides and weather conditions and also what you wear on the day. Below are a few hints to make your reef walk a success.

  • Visit reef walk locations in advance and check local tide time charts to find times of low spring tides. The best time for reef walking is during the low spring tides when, for a few days each fortnight, tides fall further than average and expose the intertidal area.
  • Allow one hour either side of the predicted low tide time for adequate walking time. Keep watch on the incoming tide during the walk.
  • Wear protective footwear at all times. During box jellyfish season (October-May), also wear protective leg wear, such as stockings or stinger suits.
  • Slip, slop, slap! Wear maximum-protection sunscreen lotion, a broad-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt for protection against the sun.
  • Use a bucket or container with a clear base for easy underwater viewing. A balance stick can be useful.

Your safety

Many dangerous animals live on the reef flat or intertidal area, including cone shells, stinging hydroids and corals, and stone fish. These animals inject toxins which can cause serious injury or even kill you. To protect yourself from potential harm, avoid picking up, touching or treading on marine life. Get advice from a qualified guide or someone with a good knowledge of marine biology to find out if a particular animal is safe to touch.

Minimum impact

Follow these guidelines to reduce human impact and protect the reef flat.

  • Watch where you walk to avoid stepping on, and killing, any coral or sea life.
  • Move along sand channels and avoid walking on any coral or other marine life.
  • Follow the markers if on a marked trail and don't stray or take shortcuts.
  • Take time to locate any regularly used trails if there is no marked trail.
  • Use a pole or stick for balance only. Do not poke or probe sea life.
  • Look but don't touch! Some marine life can deliver painful and dangerous stings. Check with an experienced guide before handling anything.
  • Return boulders to their original position if over-turned. Many animals and plants shelter on the undersides of boulders and will soon die if they are exposed.
  • Don't pick up or remove animals which are attached to the reef flat as they won't survive!
  • Avoid walking amongst coral colonies in water deeper than your knees. This makes seeing into the water and balancing difficult.
  • Don't stand on the edges of coral pools. Corals in this area are often fragile and easily damaged, particularly if you step in and out of the pool.
  • Be aware of marine park collecting restrictions.
  • Don't litter. Cigarette butts can be especially harmful if swallowed by marine animals which mistake them for food.
  • Find out more from suitably qualified people, particularly in respect of specific site conditions. You take full responsibility and risk when you use this information.

See the Caring for the reef page for more information.

Places to go reef walking

Popular places to go reef walking with a tour guide include Lady Elliot Island, Heron Island and Green Island. A self-guiding walk is available at Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island. But remember, take special care and be aware of the dangers on the reef.