Here are 10 top spots to don a snorkel, snap on fins and get up close and personal with some of the state's spectacular marine life...
1.Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg
Lady Elliot, a coral cay island in a marine park, offers magnificent snorkelling, with underwater gardens as soon as you step off the beach. A calm lagoon perfect for less experienced snorkellers is on the eastern side of the island with coral outcrops, starfish, sea urchins and smaller reef fish. Whilst, on the western side, lighthouse and coral gardens have deeper water and offer the possibility of reef sharks, whales, dolphins and hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles and manta rays.
2. Magnetic Island, Townsville
Two self-guided snorkel trails on "Maggie", a day trip for locals and tourists, 25 minutes by ferry from Townsville, are marked by white surface and subsurface floats. Nelly Bay is easiest for beginners, starting 100m off the beach. The Geoffrey Bay snorkel trail offers the added thrill of viewing the remains of a shipwreck, the SS Moltke, and part of a World War II fighter plane.
3. Orpheus Island, Townsville
A huge field of giant clams outside the Orpheus Island Research Station squirt seawater during low tide, the result of an abandoned clam-farming experiment. Orpheus has some of the most colourful coral outcrops (known as bommies) on the entire Great Barrier Reef, along with more than 1000 species of reef fish, 340 varieties of hard corals and one of the region's largest collections of soft corals. The outer reef, an hour away, is home to green turtles, manta rays, bull rays and reef sharks.
4. Lady Musgrave Island, southern Great Barrier Reef
A pristine 1200ha lagoon encircles the uninhabited coral cay of Lady Musgrave Island, 90 minutes from Bundaberg or The Town of 1770. With fantastic visibility all year round, the lagoon is home to about 350 varieties of corals and 1300 species of tropical fish, including triggerfish, clownfish, damsels and goatfish. Harmless leopard sharks and whitetip reef sharks can be spotted in the shallows, along with graceful rays. An encounter with local turtles having algae and parasites picked off their shells by little cleaner fish – is almost guaranteed.
6. Green Island, Cairns
Just a 45-minute boat ride from Cairns – Green Island's coral gardens and rich marine life boast hard and soft corals aplenty, supporting giant clams, anemones and sea cucumbers, while the rich fish life includes coral trout, butterflyfish, angelfish, fusiliers, chromis, clownfish and parrotfish as well as turtles and reef sharks. There are also plenty of rays around and you might even spot a humpback whale between July and November.
7. Hastings, Saxon and Norman Reefs, Cairns
These three reefs offer superb water clarity and a rich variety of marine life. Saxon Reef consists of many shallow platforms covered by colourful corals and anemones, home to damselfish, fusiliers and clownfish. Norman Reef's caves and swim-throughs are probably best left to scuba divers, apart from the northern reef at low tide when the plate corals are visible. During winter, Norman Reef is another hotspot for minke whales, which have shown a marked preference for interacting with snorkellers rather than divers. Nearby Hastings Reef is renowned for spectacular coral formations, with residents including parrotfish, turtles, giant clams, small reef sharks and brilliant yellow butterflyfish.
8. Ribbon Reefs, Port Douglas
Beloved by divers who come for the spectacular drop over the Coral Sea trench along with the kaleidoscope of sea life, the Ribbon Reefs run parallel to the continental shelf. Sitting about 65km off Port Douglas, the reefs are notable for water visibility and pristine ecosystem. Shallow lagoons are rich in coral growth, with spectacular marine life including damselfish, triggerfish, giant clams, parrotfish, unicornfish, black-tip sharks and hammerhead sharks. Pick an operator with the required licence and you could swim alongside dwarf minke whales.
9. The Low Isles, Port Douglas
A small coral cay 15km off Port Douglas, the Low Isles are two small islands separated by a common reef. The tranquil lagoon is home to 150 different species of hard corals and 15 species of soft, from staghorns to brain coral bommies. You may spot clownfish, angelfish, sea cucumbers, reef sharks and rays. There is a large group of resident turtles, with numbers increasing during nesting season.
10. Agincourt Reef, Port Douglas
On the outer edge of the Barrier Reef and teeming with marine life is Agincourt Reef. Complete with an underwater observatory, this ribbon reef is family-friendly and operators like Quicksilver Cruises have fun activities to entertain the little ones. The reef has 16 different dive sites and offers incredible underwater experiences including Nursery Bommie.