Stories of shark attacks, savage octopuses and giant clams all make good press, but are mostly the stuff of fiction. However, there are a few things at the Reef capable of putting a dampener on your holiday, and it makes sense to be careful. The best protection is simply to look and not touch, as nothing is actively out to harm you.

Seasickness and sunburn are the two most common problems to afflict visitors to the Reef, so take precautions. Coral and shell cuts become badly infected if not treated immediately by removing any fragments and dousing with antiseptic. Some corals can also give you a nasty sting, but this is more a warning to keep away in future than something to worry about seriously. Animals to avoid tend to be small. Some dangerous jellyfish are found at the Reef during summer – wear a protective Lycra “stinger suit” or full wet suit with hood. Conical cone shells are home to a fish-eating snail armed with a venomous barb that has caused fatalities. Don’t pick them up: there is no “safe” end to hold them. Similarly, the shy, small, blue-ringed octopus has a fatal bite and should never be handled. Stonefish are camouflaged so that they’re almost impossible to distinguish from a rock or lump of coral. They spend their days immobile, protected from attack by a series of venomous spines along their back. If you tread on one, you’ll end up in hospital – an excellent argument against reef-walking. Of the larger animals, rays are flattened fish with a sharp tail-spine capable of causing deep wounds – don’t swim close over sandy floors where they hide. At the Reef, the most commonly encountered sharks are the black-tip and white-tip varieties, and the bottom-dwelling, aptly named carpet shark, or wobbegong – all of these are inoffensive unless hassled.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The rebirth of Perth: how the city got cool

The rebirth of Perth: how the city got cool

Sun-soaked and healthy? Perhaps. A decent gateway to Western Australia? Definitely. But a cool place to spend a few days? Until recently Perth just couldn’t …

27 Apr 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
12 tips for backpacking Australia

12 tips for backpacking Australia

Backpacking Australia will almost certainly exceed your expectations. It’s not just that the places you’ll see will be more stunning than you had imagine…

09 Mar 2017 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month