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.