Here in the Whitsundays, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing the best time to snorkel.
They can be summarized in a prioritised list as:
Height of tide
Location of the sun
Amount of tide flow
People often think that the time of year might be on this list too, but this is not the case. The coral and marine life are apparent in full colour 12 months of the year.
Let’s talk about each in more detail.
Height of tide The Height of the tide is probably the most significant factor when snorkeling. In the Whitsundays specifically, surrounding islands and Great Barrier Reef, we have maximum tides with 4 metres of range (lowest tide of the year to the highest). As a result, the coral in the Whitsundays locale grows to plateau at.6 metre above the lowest astronomical tide (referred to as LAT). To get the best viewing over the top of the coral, in and around the coral “bommies”, the average person requires.5 metre of water to swim without hitting the coral, damaging the reef and themselves.
This small amount of water also “compresses” the fish into a smaller space for a brighter display in front of your eyes. This compares with high tide of 4 metres, where the coral might be 3.4m below the surface and the marine life more spread out.
The other important factor is sediment.
During a ebb tide, toward low, the less-clean water is coming off the coral shelf and from around the islands. This has more particles of matter making the water slightly more cloudy. For this reason, it is best to snorkel after low tide, optimally 1 to 2 hours after low.
Location of the sun
The next factor is the location of the sun. A sunny day with least cloud and wind is the best. With the sun high in the sky and unmasked by cloud, plenty of light can penetrate the water surface and illuminate the marine life and coral. For this reason early morning and late afternoon demand the sun penetrates the water at an angle sapping its illuminating rays before they can reach and shine on the coral.
Amount of tide flow Amount of tide flow can make a significant difference and is a due consideration. At certain times of the month, in cohesion with the phase of the moon, the tides are higher and low, so that in any given day a 4 metres of water comes in and out twice a day. At certain times of the month, their may be 2 metres of tide overnight and 2.6 metres during the day. The total for the day in this case is far different to the peak of the monthly tides. The result is smaller tides make for less water in motion, stirring far less sediment from islands, and around the coral.
Check the local tides before you go.
Wind conditions Finally wind conditions make a difference. While great for sailing, 20 – 25 knots ( 40 – 50 km/h) winds will create a significant wave – perhaps as much as 3 metres. These waves will create disturbance of the waters around the islands and coral, disturbing sediments, marine life and snorkeler!
So, when? So when is the best time to snorkel? The answer is easy. A bright sunshine day with a low tide at 11am, during the time of the month when there are small (neap) tides.