Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's great natural wonders-a place of intense beauty and vast biodiversity. And it's in grave danger.
For the second year in a row, the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a mass coral bleaching, according to Australia's lead management agency for the Reef. And while not all bleached coral will necessarily die, back-to-back bleaching events don't give the reef enough time to properly recover.
"We are seeing a decrease in the stress tolerance of these corals," Dr. Neal Cantin, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), said in a statement. "This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover."
The bleaching events can be traced back to the rising temperature of the ocean, which throws off the PH balance of the water. And while this doesn't mean that the Great Barrier Reef will cease to exist in our lifetime, global warming means the problem will probably keep getting worse.
In other words, go now. Here's why:
See The Reef
This one's pretty obvious-but it's the main reason you'll want to make the lengthy journey from the United States. Head to the Whitsunday Islands where you'll find some of the healthiest reefs in the entire system. According to marine biologist Hayley Brien, who is currently based at One&Only Hayman Island, hard blue corals will likely be gone in about 50 years, so if you want to see one of the most rare and beautiful types of coral, it's worth booking a trip sooner than later.
Fly Over The Heart Reef
This heart-shaped formation of coral located just northeast of the Whitsunday Islands was first spotted in 1975 by a pilot. Book a helicopter or seaplane journey to see it for yourself. Be sure to snap a photo or two-it's guaranteed to get you a lot of likes on Instagram.
Spend a Day at Whitehaven Beach
Accessible only by air or by boat, Whitehaven's four and a half miles of powdery white sand is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Since the sand-made from 98 percent silica-doesn't retain heat, there's no need to worry about burning your toes here.
Visit Sea Turtles in Rehab
Were the turtles your favorite part about Finding Nemo? If so, make your way to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, where scientists and volunteers nurse injured or sick turtles before they're released back into the ocean. Their Fitzroy Island campus hosts daily tours for those who want to see the rehabilitation process in action.
Have Dinner on the Beach
If you're staying at the One&Only Hayman Island in the Whitsunday Islands, be sure to set aside one night for their Under The Stars experience. In addition to watching the sunset behind the Whitsundays during a five-course meal, you'll also witness the nightly migration of flying foxes-also known as fruit bats-back to Hook Island, which means no mosquitoes will bother you while you dine (a huge plus in our book).
Where to Stay
While day trips from the mainland are an option, to do the Great Barrier Reef properly you need to stay on one of the islands. One&Only Hayman Island, which reopened in 2014 after a multimillion-dollar refurbishment, has something there for every kind of traveler. While honeymooners can hideout in a private beach villa, families can book connecting rooms over in the Hayman Wing on the other side of the resort. We're preferential to the Pool Wing's one-bedroom suites that have direct swim-out access to the massive saltwater pool from their private terraces.
Where to Eat and Drink
Since you'll be staying on a private island, you won't be popping over to the mainland for dinner. But that's okay. In addition to their beach dining experience, One&Only Hayman Island also has five other restaurants and bars to choose from including Italian and Malaysian food so it's hard to get bored.
How to Get There
Domestic flights from major cities-including Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne-are available several times a day to Hamilton Island. From there, you can arrange private transport via boat, helicopter or seaplane via your resort.
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