Thrills and gills as age of aquariums hits Cairns

See what lives in the Great Barrier Reef at the Cairns Aquarium and Reef Research Centre.
See what lives in the Great Barrier Reef at the Cairns Aquarium and Reef Research Centre.

Get up close and personal with creatures of the deep at Queensland’s newest attraction, the Cairns Aquarium and Reef Research Centre.

Following the path of a raindrop, you start the 2½-hour journey in the rainforest-clad mountain ranges before joining the creeks to flow through the tropical rainforest to meet a collection of snakes, lizards, frogs and insects.

From the rainforest it’s through flooded plains and billabongs into the mangroves before reaching the Great Barrier Reef and, finally, the Coral Sea. Along the way you’ll see 10 ecosystems, 71 live exhibits and 15,000 creatures great and small.

One of the most awe-inspiring exhibits is the 300,000-litre Deep Reef, a replica of a reef drop-off that gives the chance to see a world often reserved for scuba divers.

There’s also a 1.8 million litre Oceanarium exhibit, home to scalloped hammerhead sharks and other large ocean predators.

You can even touch and hold animals like blue sea stars, sea cucumbers, insects and lizards while learning about them at the touch and talk exhibits.

Aquarium general manager Julie Cullen said every one of the centre’s inhabitants is native to North Queensland.

“Our amazing collections of weird and wonderful rainforest animals and marine life are without a doubt, the stars of the show,” she said.

The centre also has a strong focus on environmental conservation.

Ms Cullen said in order to instil a sense of respect for these environments, people must first be engaged with experiences that promote understanding.

“This is particularly important in terms of creating awareness among visitors for those animals and plants that are critically endangered or rarely seen such as the emerald green tree monitors, freshwater sawfish, Jardine River painted turtles and the Oceanarium exhibit’s highlight – scalloped hammerhead sharks.”

Cairns Aquarium and Reef Research Centre is open daily, 9am-5pm or until 7pm Fridays; $42/$28/$34, with family passes available.  Phone  (07) 4044-7300, www.cairnsaquarium.com.au 

This story originally appeared on The Senior.