Arrivals & Departures Meet the Great Barrier Reef's Great Eight underwater stars

Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) aka "Wally" on Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland, Australia
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

An African safari may have its big five, but a trip to Australia's Great Barrier Reef has the Great Eight.

You can’t help but delight in some of the names that make up the Great Barrier Reef’s Great Eight, billed as the local equivalent of an African safari's Big Five.

There's the curious 2m-long, 100kg potato cod, and the distinctive Maori wrasse (pictured above), with its thick lips and bump on the forehead. 

They are joined by whales, sharks, turtles, manta rays, clown fish and giant clams (which can grow to 1.5m long and weigh up to 200kg) to make an underwater bucket list of sorts for visitors to the reef.

The reef is home to 600 species of coral and more than 1500 species of fish, but the Great Eight have been chosen for their importance to the marine ecosystem and prominence along the Queensland coastline. 

They spread the 2300km length of the Great Barrier Reef, from Lady Elliot and Heron islands in the south to Cairns and Port Douglas in North Queensland.

“Spying humpback whales during their migration to snorkeling with 200kg giant clams and everything in between is an incredible privilege that everyone should cherish,” said Reef Teach owner and marine biologist Gareth Phillips.

Lady Elliot Island custodian Peter Gash said the search for the Great Eight was more than simply ticking animal sightings off a list.

“When people try and join the exclusive Great Eight club, they inadvertently bring a lot of energy, drive and knowledge towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef and our waterways,” he said.

“It's a test to find the Great Eight; you have to work hard but the sense of achievement of seeing them is extremely rewarding.”

Top image: Maori wrasse on Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Picture by Andrew Watson.

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