The main purpose of this article is to gain an insight into the relationships between variables describing the environmental conditions of the Far Northern section of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Several of the variables describing these conditions had different measurement levels and often they had non-linear relationships. Using non-linear principal component analysis, it was possible to acquire an insight into these relationships. Furthermore, three geographical areas with unique environmental characteristics could be identified. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.