Quicksilver Cruises' activity platform on Agincourt Reef. INSET: See maori wrasse and spectacular corals while snorkelling.

Is this the ultimate way to learn about the Reef?

WE'VE all been hoodwinked.

Remember how Nemo came to be? He was the sole survivor of eggs under the protection of his dad, Marlin, after his mum was eaten by a barracuda.

What Pixar didn't tell us is that, in real life, his dad would have undergone a sex change and become his mother and Nemo would have provided her with offspring when the time was right. "But they couldn't show that in the movies," jokes Quicksilver Cruises' marine biologist.

When it comes to clownfish the female wears the pants. As anemone fish, there's a strict dominance hierarchy. The most aggressive female sits at the top. Then there's a submissive male with whom she reproduces and a number of "neuts''.



"Anemone fish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they are born as males and when they mature, they become females," the biologist explains. "She nags him a lot.

"When the female dies or leaves the group, the male becomes less stressed, transforms into a female and becomes the leader, recruiting one of his neuts as his new mate."

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We're on board Quicksilver Cruises' Wavepiercer, headed to Agincourt Reef, about 65km north-east of Port Douglas on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Running parallel to the continental shelf and adjacent to the Coral Sea, the clear waters and pristine ecosystem mean we might even spot a clownfish if we're lucky.

We're en route to Quicksilver's large activity platform which, once you arrive, can only be described as an amusement park on the reef. From the massive floating structure you choose your own personal reef discovery. You can go snorkelling, either at your own leisure (lifeguards on site) or guided by a marine biologist for an extra fee. There's a roped off area the size of a football field to explore. We easily spend more than an hour cross-hatching the teeming metropolis beneath. The day we visit the water visibility is 20 metres.


Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.
Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland. Tourism Tropical North Queenslan


Other optional activities, in addition to your cruise fare, include scuba diving (introductory and certified), scenic helicopter flights for another perspective over the jewel-like ribbon reefs, and Ocean Walker Helmet Diving. The latter allows you to don an impressive-looking helmet and walk underwater on the reef platform.

There's also an underwater observatory which takes you beneath the pontoon to get a glimpse of the expansive coral gardens and more than 1500 species of fish that call the reef home. Here you'll spot the resident maori wrasse, distinguished by his big puckery lips and forehead lump. This activity is inclusive in the ticket price, as are the Semi-Submersible Reef boats which depart the platform every 15 minutes.

The 30-minute journey, weaving between the blue, mustard and purple corals and schools of fish, is mesmerising. Our guide says the ribbon reef is recovering from coral bleaching last summer when water temperatures reached 32 degrees and 10% of coral was lost. One boulder coral we glide past is the size of a small sedan. Our guide estimates it's more than 1000 years old.

We're told not to get our hopes up about seeing a turtle. Green turtles are endangered and the hawksbill turtle is critically endangered. But in fact we are graced by two small green guys.

One of the most common fish you'll see on the outer reef is the parrot fish. Its parrot-like beak is a giveaway, but it is its colours, like a rainbow Paddle Pop, that make it so spectacular to look at. Interestingly, parrotfish eat so much coral they are responsible for 30% of the sand on the reef. The coral they consume and excrete as sand helps to create small islands and sandy beaches throughout the world.

While the clownfish remain elusive this time around, it's the foxtail rabbitfish that attracts a sing-song "awww'' on board. Apparently, a male and female will stay together for 25 years. While one sleeps, the other feeds.