Cairns Aquarium - So Much More Than Just Fish

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A visit to the far northern Queensland area around Cairns takes you to a diverse natural environment that has been justifiably protected within two large World Heritage Areas. The two main ecosystems that have given this fascinating area its kudos are the all-important Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree wet tropics rainforest. Both are vast, amazing and well worth a visit. 

But there are a number of smaller ecosystems that accompany these giants, and they are usually more difficult to experience in the wild. The jade green freshwater rivers, billabongs and wetlands, the dense moist darkness of the mangrove forests, and the jagged rocky valleys and hills of the dry outback all coincide in this area. And all are worth investigating.

If your time is short or the weather is bad, you'll get a taster of all these worlds at the Cairns Aquarium, right in the centre of the city. Locals can buy a season pass and visit regularly as there's a lot to see. But visitors can also see and experience the region in a few hours wandering through this fascinating place. The aquarium also features the beautiful sea and coastal world of the Cape York and Gulf Savannah regions to the north.

The highlights for me were -

  • the reef system exhibits were fantastic with their huge walk-through aquariums where ocean giants like the big rays and sharks swooped overhead and dropped to the sea floor in front of us

  • smaller aquariums took us to the world of sea anemones, cute little Nemos, angelfish and flitting damselfish

  • others colour-coded the corals and fish in a kaleidoscope of smaller areas 

  • a coral garden where the kids can pop up in the middle and be part of all the action, almost close enough to touch the dainty rays and small fish cruising by

  • the magical world of the freshwater ecosystems where strange fish, eels, turtles, lizards, snakes and frogs all lurk strangely, often in the half-dark

  • and the almost spooky half-light of the mangroves forest, which are so much a part of the area on both the land and the sea

If you have a particular area of interest time your visit for one of the many daily talks – schedule here.

And whereas it's not hard to get out to the reef and see a lot of the reef fish and corals in their natural environment, marginal places like the rivers and wetlands are not so easy to experience, and the wildlife is often quite secretive. At the aquarium we were able to get up close to the shy creatures of the streams and forest and twilight without having to creep through their very delicate habitats in the wild.

Interpretation of the exhibits is clear and easy to follow. But there are also chances to dive in to their more detailed ecology, and also the serious job of the conservation work required to protect them. Climate change, pollution and loss of habitat are all challenges to these sensitive environments and the Cairns Aquarium is supporting conservation work in these places with several dedicated Research & Development programs. They also encourage local young people to be involved in local conservation as well.

There's plenty for the kids throughout the day with guided tours and interactive times at several touch tanks. In fact, the whole place is a marvel for kids, big and small, and one trip may not be enough.

Explore the Cairns Aquarium here

Or email for more info and tour selections

Sue Farley