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In photos: What lurks beneath the Reef?

02 May 2018


  • dugongs
  • fisheries
  • marine species
  • marine turtles
  • sharks

Ever wondered what lurks beneath the waters of Australia’s northern Great Barrier Reef? This magical ecosystem is not only renowned for its picturesque landscape, but also for its exceptional marine wildlife, from large sea creatures like whales and sharks to the tiny but iconic clownfish.

This week, we’re celebrating as we just raised enough money to buy the last full-time commercial gill net on the northern Great Barrier Reef! With the help of our amazing supporters, Princess Charlotte Bay is now a 385 km2 net-free haven for the gentle giants that spend their days feeding on the local seagrass.

And dugongs aren’t the only species that are going to benefit from the removal of the net!

So get your dive-mask on! It’s time to immerse yourself in the extraordinary underwater world of the northern Great Barrier Reef and join us as we celebrate.



With a beautiful fluked tail and voluptuous body, it's not hard to see how dugongs inspired the mermaid myths. One of the largest populations of these air-breathing marine mammals can be found in the northern Great Barrier Reef, with around 6,500 individuals calling this place home. 

Dugong facing camera © Shutterstock / vkilikov / WWF

Snubfin dolphins
You’d be lucky to find these round-headed and beakless dolphins swimming playfully in groups along the northern coast of Australia. The elusive Australian snubfin dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) live in small, localised populations and are highly vulnerable to coastal port developments. Add the pressure of accidental bycatch from commercial fishing, and this could spell a dire future for these Aussie dolphins.

Snubfin dolphin spitting © Dr Deb Thiele / WWF-Aus
Dugong habitat
Did you know that dugongs are also called ‘sea cows’? No, not because they moo. Dugongs have a mostly herbivorous diet and can be found grazing on large amounts of seagrass in shallow coastal waters. Their constant grazing of the grass keeps it healthy and helps it grow.

Oval seagrass (Halophila ovalis) dugong food © Jürgen Freund / WWF

Turtles are highly vulnerable and defenceless against fishing net entanglement. With more than 99% of new green sea turtle hatchlings in Queensland’s north turning female due to increased temperatures, protecting this species from rapid decline is vital.

A close up of green turtle (Chelonia mydas) © Shutterstock / Rich Carey / WWF-Sweden

Sea snakes
Flat, paddle-like tails enable these reptiles to glide through warm and shallow tropical waters. It’s no wonder they’ve made a home up in the waters of sunny northern Queensland! Sea snakes (Hydrophiinae) need to surface for air regularly, so getting entangled in fishing nets can threaten the lives of these spectacular serpents.

Olive sea snake, Lighthouse Bommie, Great Barrier Reef © Mike Ball Dive Expeditions / WWF-Aus

With a unique mallet-shaped head and wide-set eyes, hammerhead sharks are extremely vigilant when scanning their ocean homes for food. Often misunderstood, these apex predators play an important role in maintaining the natural balance of the ocean ecosystem, which is why it can be tragic when they are lost to commercial fishing activities.

Shoal of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) © / Doug Perrine / WWF
The sawfish has seen a drastic decline over recent decades, and northern Australia’s waters are home to one of the last remaining strongholds. Unfortunately, their large size and unique saw-like rostrum make them extremely vulnerable to getting caught and trapped in fishing nets.

Sawfish (Pristidae) underwater with close up detail of mouth and saw © Shutterstock / Andrea Izzotti / WWF

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A dugong (Dugong dugon) swimming in the sea © / WWF


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