As the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville offers a number of sites, events and activities for water lovers both above and below the water.

See the Great Barrier Reef

At the top of an ocean lover’s bucket list is to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Whether you snorkel or dive, both are breathtaking ways to view its beauty. Scuba diving is a great way to stay in the water longer and to not miss a single second of the experience. Anyone new to this should know: just look and do no touch. Australians try their best to protect this unique reef system and they certainly do not want you or the reef to get hurt. Keep in mind that coral-friendly sunscreen (try Blue Lizard or anything on  is a good option to take on your ocean adventure!

“The Great Barrier Reef – one cannot simply come to Queensland without visiting! A scuba diver myself, I dreamed of diving here and it was incredible every single time.” | Jessica Willis, University of Missouri

Scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities appear on most of the islands along the coast of Queensland. If you get a chance to travel, make sure you check some of them out. Here are a few you can consider, Magnetic Island, Moreton Island, Orpheus Island and the Whitsundays.

Join the University Dive Club

If you wish to get scuba certified or to advance your certification while in Australia, the James Cook University (JCU) Dive Club is just for you! Throughout the semester, the club offers multiple certification courses, dive trips, and liveaboards. The liveabroad is when the dive club hires a boat and captain to take the group out to a dive site for a weekend. You stay on the boat and get to spend time with fellow divers.  In addition to these events, there is an end of the semester dive trip (the Spring 2017 trip was to Indonesia). However, the most important dive in Townsville is the SS Yongala which is one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world. The ship itself has become its own little coral reef system and is concentrated with marine life; you see something new every dive. You must be an advanced certified diver capable of going more than 65-ft deep. Nitrox is not required. The wreck itself is impenetrable and is a national heritage site – definitely a must-see for all scuba divers traveling to Townsville.

“Little coral colony found at a safety stop (SS Yongala)” | Jessica Willis, University of Missouri

Volunteer with the Marine Conservation Society

If you venture to JCU’s Market Day, be sure to stop by the Marine Conservation Society’s table if you are interested. Sign up to volunteer and they will send you email updates of events they are hosting throughout the semester and information on volunteering opportunities. More information here.

Assist Your Professors with Research

Many professors at JCU conduct their own research. You can personally approach them in your classes or contact the JCU Research Office for more information. Many marine biology/environmental studies focused courses host field trips to JCU’s research station at Orpheus Island. Here, your course will collect data for research projects and learn out in the environment. This personally was my favorite aspect of JCU and it really does help you understand the topic of study and how to go about conducting research as a scientist out in the field.

“My favorite class included a weekend-long field trip to Orpheus island, a research station out on the GBR. Orpheus Island is home to several fringing reef systems which we studied carefully, collecting surveying data and writing down detailed observations.” | TEAN Alum Katherine Montgomery, University of Virginia

Visit or Volunteer at Reef HQ

Reef HQ is the largest coral reef aquarium in the world and is a part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site. The coral variety here is amazing and everyone can easily enjoy the unique Indo-Pacific marine life. Reef HQ also has many volunteering opportunities. Some consist of helping with the sea turtle hospital or, if scuba certified, the cleaning and feeding of aquarium tanks. Information sessions such as shark feeding and touring the facility, etc. are all included with admission. This is a great way to learn about the Great Barrier Reef when scuba diving/snorkeling is not readily an option; although it simply cannot compare to the real deal. Reef HQ is a perfect option for a rainy day and the Queensland Museum is right next door as well.

TEAN JCU visiting Reef HQ as one of their included cultural events for the semester

Want to learn how to study abroad in Queensland yourself? Check out our study abroad programs in Townsville.

Jessica Willis is a TEAN Alum and student at University of Missouri. She studied abroad with TEAN in Townsville at James Cook University.