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Published August 15th 2015
Discover the Great Barrier Reef without getting Wet
Reef HQ – The Great Barrier Reef Aquarium
Reef HQ is Queensland's Great Barrier Reef Aquarium and short of booking a tour on a glass bottom boat or reef submarine, is a great way to see the coral reef and the fish that inhabit it. This wonder is the world's largest living coral reef aquarium.
The aquarium opened in 1987 to make the coral reef accessible to everybody and to raise community awareness around conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. It is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority.
A diver demonstrates the inside out stomach of a rhinoceros starfish.
There are a number of shows and activities throughout the day. Visitors are alerted over a loud speaker system prior to these commencing so nobody misses out. I recommend a minimum of two hours to see everything and encourage visitors to take advantage of the interesting tours and talks which are included in the entry price.
Location: You will find Reef HQ at 2-68 Flinders Street, Townsville.
Opening Hours: It is open 9.30am until 5.00pm 364 days a year.
Contact: They can be contacted on 07 47500 800 or 07 47500 891 (Weekends), by email at info@reefHQ.com.au or via their website
. Costs: Ticket Prices (At Aug 2015) are Adults $28, Concession $22, Children under five are free, Child (5-6 years) $14, Single Family (1 Adult and up to 2 children) $42 and Family (2 Adults and up to 3 Children) $70
Parking: All day parking is available along Sir Leslie Thiess Drive for $6. Alternatively there are parking facilities in Flinders Street East. All exhibits are wheelchair accessible.
Facilities: All exhibits are wheelchair accessible. Public toilets are just before the entry. The Reef-In Shop, open 9.30am to 5pm, sells souvenirs. The Waterview Café is open 9.30am am to 3.30 pm. There are seats scattered throughout the aquarium.
The Predator Dive Show Our first stop is the Dive Show. We've arrived just in time and take a seat in a theatre in front of the large predator tank. A diver explains how starfish invert their stomachs to eat. He picks up a starfish, swishes water near its underside and partially digested food floats about. He places the starfish against the glass where it stays for the duration.
A diver introduces us to a shark in the Predator Tank.
Next the diver points out different types of sharks swimming in the tank. A lazy shark resting at the bottom must be coaxed to get up and swim. Theatre staff assist the diver in his talk by showing us the skeleton jaws of different types of sharks.
This 750,000 litre tank which can also be seen from one side of the viewing tunnel includes a replica of the bow section of the shipwrecked S.S. Yongala.
The Predator Dive Show is on daily at 10.30am and is included in the entry price.
The Viewing Tunnel After the dive show we walk through the viewing tunnel. The diver has swum over and points out some baby fish. On the other side of the tunnel we are seeing into the Coral Reef Exhibit. A living coral reef has been recreated here.
Along the tunnel are information boards which help us identify the fish. There are a variety of sharks including a hammerhead and some leopard sharks. Amongst the many varieties of tropical fish are the mottled Malabar groupers, and blue tangs. Some children are inspired to embark on a fish identification competition.
While we watch another diver has anchored himself to the glass with a suction handle and is cleaning the glass. He waves to the children.
The Viewing Tunnel is accessible all day and is included in the entry price.
The Discovery Session
The Discovery Lagoon is our next stop. The Discovery Session is a great one for the children. The presenter wades in a shallow tank with glass sides. He engages the children in a discussion about walking safely in the sea and demonstrates with a model how easy it would be to step on a small stingray hidden beneath the sand.
This is an up close and personal session. Children are given the opportunity to touch a rhinoceros starfish. We are able to hold the strange fringed egg sack of a leopard shark. The presenter tells us much about the starfish, about sting rays and about the breeding of leopard sharks.
A blue spotted sting ray and a rhinoceros starfish in the Discovery Lagoon.
There is a mat immediately in front of the tank for children to sit on to ensure they have an unobstructed view.
The Discovery Session is on daily at 11.15am and 2.00pm and is included in the entry price.
Fish and Coral Displays
Colourful tropical fish and corals are displayed in small tanks around the aquarium. Each is labelled with names, photos and snippets of information. One houses a stone fish and it is easy to see how effective his rocky camouflage is. Garfish swim vertically. A bright purple and orange fish darts too quickly between corals to be photographed.
Another tank showcases different types of corals. There is slipper coral, mushroom coral, candy cane coral, brain coral and more. Some are orange, some green and others are multicoloured. Some are button shaped, some whispy, some tubular; all are beautiful.
These displays are accessible all day and are included in the entry price.
The Turtle Hospital
A special treat is the tour of the turtle hospital. When we visit there are five patients in turtle hospital. They have private tanks; there are no shared rooms here. A Hawksbill turtle called Cuddles is having floating problems and cannot submerge. One turtle has swallowed fishing line. A green sea turtle called Heath is recovering from boat strike. Once well again these turtles will be released back into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
We learn that the turtles' shells are sensitive and we are shown how much they like having a bristly brush swept over them. As the guide brushes a turtle's shell, it rocks appreciatively from side to side. In the wild the turtles use coral to rub their shells clean.
The turtle hospital cares for and rehabilitates sick and injured marine turtles. The turtles can become entangled in fishing nets, lines and hooks, they can be struck by boats, ingest litter which they cannot digest or become tangled in discarded plastic bags.
The Turtle Talks are on daily at 12.00pm and 3.30pm and is included in the entry price.
The Coral Reef Exhibit
Finally we move on to the 2.5 million litre coral tank and sit on cushioned seats in front of the double story windows of The Coral Reef Exhibit. This is an open tank and sunlight is filtering through the water. There are over 120 species of coral and 150 species of fish in this tank.
Some of the corals wave slowly in the water, they are hypnotic. A pneumatic wave machine is used to create the water motion. Exotic fish swim between the corals, this is a calming view. Some of the fish we see are lined rabbit fish, blue chromis and anemone fish.
The Waterview Café, which is by the Coral Reef Exhibit, is open from 9.30am am to 3.30 pm. There is also an open display tank running the length of the eating area
The Reef-In Store is open 9.30 am to 5.00pm. It sells postcards and souvenirs.
The aquarium operates with the assistance of volunteers who are mostly engaged in talking to the public and assisting with schools. Volunteer information nights are held in February, training runs in March, April and May and volunteers commence work in June. More details can be found here.
Cost:Ticket Prices (At Aug 2015) are Adults $28, Concession $22, Children under five are free, Child (5-6 years) $14, Single Family (1 Adult and up to 2 children) $42 and Family (2 Adults and up to 3 Children) $70