An upbringing on a remote yet stunning island with the Great Barrier Reef as your playground – its the sort of lifestyle that dreams are made of. Except, for Jemma Craig, it was and still is her reality. A self-confessed eco-warrior and lover of all things underwater, we had a chat with Jemma about her life in paradise…
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do…
I grew up on Green Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. My family own and operate the Crocodile and Marine life zoo situated on the Island. It was started by my grandfather (George Craig) in 1972 and is co-owned by my parents (Sue and Stephen Craig). My grandfather is a retired crocodile hunter and croc expert, after handling and capturing crocodiles for many years in the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. My father was 12 when they first came to Green Island, and my mother started working at the Green Island Resort when she was 18, which is where my parents met. My brother Billy and I grew up there as well and completed all of our primary education through correspondence Distance Education on the Island, as it is very small and there are no other permanent residents or schools. After completing high school in Cairns, I returned to work for my family as a Zoo Keeper and Tour Guide at the Park. Growing up in such a unique situation has given me such a huge appreciation for animals and the reef, as well as family and the tourism industry. It is a very unique and challenging lifestyle that has allowed me to have some of the most incredible experiences and learn many different skills. My passions lie within travelling, exploring and adventure, photography and film making (above and below the water), as well as tourism, blogging, marketing and writing.
What is your favourite place on the Great Barrier Reef?
It is very hard to decide, I feel excited to visit any part of the Great Barrier Reef. Through Instagram and talking about my passions, I have learnt about all these incredible sounding places on the Great Barrier Reef that I long to visit, so it makes me inclined to say my favourite places on the GBR are the ones I haven’t visited yet! I long to go to Osprey Reef along the Ribbons north of Cooktown because most people can’t even begin to describe it to me which makes me more and more determined to see it for myself!
What is the Great Barrier Reef’s best kept secret?
People travel from all over the world to spend one day on the reef… But here’s the secret, you can never completely see all of the Great Barrier Reef’s magic, not even in a lifetime. You could spend every day exploring this place and still be in absolute awe by the new things that present themselves to you. There is an abundance here, such a huge abundance that often it’s easy to misunderstand what that means. I always encourage people to see as much of the reef as they possibly can. They would never in a million lifetimes regret that decision.
Where is the best place in the Great Barrier Reef for wildlife spotting?
It’s not exactly about where, it’s about how you do it. The Reef is in charge and it will show you many things; if you have eyes to see it. The key is to be patient, to be calm, quiet and slow. When you learn to relax in the water, the wildlife no longer become threatened by you, and will come out to play. You also must learn to appreciate the little things – watch the colourful nudibranch dance in the current; see that colourful anemone down there? It’s hiding a clown fish. If you’re able to take a closer look, suddenly life is all around you. It becomes even more impressive when you appreciate the little things too, because when the big things come along (and there will be plenty of them!), it makes it even more special.
What are the must see destinations near the reef in Queensland?
Listen to your gut feelings. Do you dream of hanging out on a lazy beach, sipping a cocktail while swimming in the crystal clear waters? Check out an Island – There’s plenty of them! Growing up on an Island has given me a unique perspective of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a whole different ecosystem because it’s truly a place where the rainforest meets the reef. Visit Green Island if you dream to snorkel with turtles in the shallows, check out Fitzroy Island if you have a taste for adventure and exploring. If Scuba diving is more your thing, Take one of the many Charters to the Outer Barrier Reef and dive off the boat – it’s one of my favourite things to do. It all comes down to what you want to see and how you want to see it. Everyone is different, and I think that should be taken into consideration when choosing where to go. Cairns is a fantastic hub for the Reef because you can see it in hundreds of different ways, and there is also a tonne of other incredible stuff to do here. Cairns has the ancient Daintree rainforest on one side, the GBR a stone throw away, Outback Queensland and the tablelands a short drive, and some of the nicest beaches in Queensland – all on our doorstep!
Where else do you like to visit in Australia?
I love Australia – In my eyes, it is the most beautiful place in the world. Having said that, I haven’t seen enough of it! I love the cities, especially Melbourne; but something I’ve only had a small taste of is the true Australian outback. Broome, the Kimberley’s and Alice Springs are on the list!
What are your favourite islands to visit off the coast of Queensland?
It’d be bad for me not to say my home – Green Island. I love this place, and I get to share it with my family. It is a gateway to discover many things people could only dream of, I am so incredibly lucky to be a part of it. Having said that, I love Fitzroy Island! It is big, fun, there’s plenty to do and many places to explore. Some of the Islands I’ve never been to but really want to check out include Lady Elliot Island, Heron Island, Hinchinbrook and Lizard Island. Well… Let’s be honest, I want to check out them all!
We love your Instagram account; tell us about one of your favourite pictures, and how we can see it for ourselves…
One of my favourite pictures would have to be the photo of ‘Nemo Gasping’, or in other words – a painted clown fish with his little fishy mouth wide open. This photo was actually a complete fluke; I was diving on Flynn Reef and found a beautiful white anemone close to the mooring line. There were two clown fish sitting here and just as I had pressed the trigger to take a photo, the big aggressive one decided to stare right down the barrel of my camera and burp. This photo was a sensation and it’s all thanks to the rudeness of one tiny fish. Another of my favs is from my Helicopter ride over Vlassoff Cay… In one corner of the photo are my pink shoes, sitting in the chopper and in the background is the beautiful strip of white sand and the blues and greens of the reef. A helicopter ride of the Green Barrier Reef is among the more amazing things I’ve ever done in my life and would recommend it to anyone.
As a Green Island native, describe a day in the life of an Australian islander…
They say the world is a playground, and the reef is definitely mine. As a child, I never ran out of things to do, there was always something to explore. We made friends with the fishes, told jokes to the seagulls and built entire empires out of sand. We connected in a way that was different from the rest of the world… so much so that when I was 13 and went to a real school for the first time, it was so very strange and unusual to me. My mum loves taking big swims around the island and then relaxing on the beach with a good book, my dad loves taking his boat out and rescuing animals and bird that have fallen out of their nests, my brother loves windsurfing, paddle boarding and photographing the sunsets… me? I love spending as much time as possible under the water – a whole day if I can get away with it. I love figuring out the best ways to use my camera underwater, to find a hidden animal under the coral, to drift alongside turtles for hours and to lose myself in the flow of the ocean. Time moves differently down there, and I just feel connected to everything around me. It’s the one place in the world where my body becomes weightless, my mind goes quiet and I am home.
Is there any specific food or drink we should try whilst near the Great Barrier Reef?
The seafood! Try some fresh caught fish or bugs, or even have a go at catching some yourself! Cairns and Green Island also has some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had!