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The Ultimate Guide to fly your drone over the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

🖐 In this blog post we’ll share all known regulation around recreational and commercial drone use over the Great Barrier Reef (Queensland). Give a 👍 at the end of this post & feel free to share your experience or any updates you might have in the Forum. Keep in mind that the content below is updated to the best of our knowledge & does not replace official sources & your research.

Aerial Photo of a Coral Reef
Aerial Photo of a Coral Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is located in Queensland (QLD) which follows the common rules of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). If you're looking for the unmanned aerial vehicle rules of Australia then click here.

As for a shortcut, no matter where in Queensland (QLD), you should fly:

  • at a maximum altitude of 120 m above the ground.

  • away from private property, vehicles in movement, people or large crowds (including over beaches, stadiums or parks) & respect individuals' privacy.

  • at least 5.5 km away from airports (any airport, seaplane base or area where aircraft or helicopter take off & land) & give way to all other type of aircraft.

  • only during permitting weather & within your sight at all times.

  • away from areas where its use could interfere with police or first responders.

  • avoiding sensitive areas including government or military facilities.


Can I fly a drone over the Great Barrier Reef?

Recreational drone use: flying your unmanned aerial vehicle over the Great Barrier Reef is authorised & you do not need to fill in any form. However be mindful not to disturb local wildlife and other visitors.

Commercial drone use: it is possible for you to fly there for commercial purposes (movie, aerial photography, etc.) but you must apply for a permit and have an Australian license to obtain it. You can apply for a permit from this link.

🚨 note that Hamilton Island has forbidden the use of drones for recreational use due to the proximity of the aerodrome to the island. Find more information for Hamilton Island here.

Here's a little video to introduce you to the Great Barrier Reef Permits (time to get some popcorn out! 🍿🎬).

Watch out for sea mammals!

🐳 Marine life in Queensland is strictly looked after; you should fly no closer than 300 m from any sea mammals in Queensland (🦈 Sharks are not sea mammals btw) 🧐 Further recommendations have been given such as avoiding to approach front ways or above (including the shade of your drone) the animal(s).


Can I fly my drone over Cairns, Queensland?

🚨 Unfortunately, you will have a hard time to fly your drone from Cairns due to the numerous planes and aero tours available from the city. We don't want to disappoint you but if you do not intend to leave the city or just include a tour to the Great Barrier reef then you should probably leave your drone home.

Drone Fly Map Cairns


What do I risk for flying a drone illegally in Australia?

The amount & scope of the fine will depend on the nature & severity of your infraction. The judges will also evaluate if you intentionally committed the infraction and/or if you had any commercial purposes to do such. However fines for illicit drone activity are very depending on the circumstances but can reach as high as approximately $9000. See Jake who crashed his drone into Eureka Tower.


How to get to the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2,300 km and features about 900 islands.. Needless to say that you will have a wide ways and tours to access it but the most common ones would be:

By boat: this is the cheapest way to get there. Often packed with dozens of other tourists, there are a great way to enjoy a great day outdoors without worrying too much about anything else than having fun. Most tours depart from Cairns and Airlie Beach getaway to the famous WhitSunday Island.

Ferry Photo taken from a drone
Ferry Photo taken from a drone

🛫 By (sea)plane: you can see the great barrier reef from your plane's window but the best way to really experience it is to land next to the coral. The biggest seaplane hub would be in Cairns.

🚁 By helicopter: if you fancy a little more and exclusive transport than helicopter tours might be just perfect for you. However, but aware that only a few will allow you to land close to the reef (check with the tour operator prior).


What to do in the Great Barrier Reef?

Go Snorkelling: Surely the most popular activity, snorkelling is fairly easy over most reefs. Be aware tho of which tour operator you chooses, the biggest, the less intimate tour you will get. Our personal recommendation is to go for the mid-range giving you a little more privacy yet not blowing off your budget.

Go diving: Same applies as for snorkelling, you will have the option between close and far reef tours. The second option being where you will see most and get a better bang for your buck in terms of scenery. We recommend you to check out tours departing from Cape Tribulation rather than Cairns (insider tip).

Sailboat Photo taken from a drone
Sailboat Photo taken from a drone

Go sailing: If you're looking for day tours then Cairns and Airlie Beach should both suit you. If you're after a several days cruise then you should find more offers from Airlie Beach as many tours could go around the island and include an overnight stop on the WhitSunday Beach.


Once you got everything in order, you can start flying over the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's awesome landscapes and create videos like this one:

✅ Please leave a comment or update the Forum when you receive news and/or gain experience with your drone over the Great Barrier Reef! Have fun and safe flight!


Disclaimer: Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information researched, we take no responsibility for any loss, harm or damage caused as a direct or indirect consequence of relying on this information. It is your responsibility to seek advice from qualified local & relevant authorities for needed information about local drone rules and regulations.

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