Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is popularly known to be planet Earth’s largest coral reef system.

Comprising of more than 2,900 reefs, with 900 islands covering a total area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is a natural beauty which is treasured not only in Australia – but also throughout the rest of the world.

Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland in north-eastern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef can even be seen from outer space, making it the largest single structure created by living organisms.

The structure of the Great Barrier Reef itself has been made by billions upon billions of miniature organisms, known as coral polyps.

Additionally, the reef supports a staggering array of diverse life, and in 1981 it was selected as a World Heritage Site.

American media company CNN, labelled the Great Barrier Reef as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, while the Queensland National Trust gave it the title of official icon for the state of Queensland.

The majority of the Great Barrier Reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

They assist in preserving and protecting the reef from the ongoing impact of human use – which includes fishing and some forms of tourism.

Additional environmental pressures on the reef to its ecosystem include climate change, run-off, coral bleaching, as well as outbreaks in population of the dreaded crown of thorns starfish.

For many thousands of years, the Great Barrier Reef has been known of and used by the

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

It is an important part of their culture, belief systems and spirituality. As can be expected, the reef is also a must-see location for tourists, especially in the Whitsunday Islands and Cairns region.

While generating in excess of 1 billion dollars each year, tourism is an extremely viable economic activity for this entire area, which extends beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

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Supporting a great diversity of life which includes many endangered species, there are 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises which have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef.

Some of these also include the dwarf minke whale, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, as well as the humpback whale. Large populations of dugongs also live there.

There are more than 1,500 species of fish that live on the Great Barrier Reef, some of which include the clown-fish, red bass, red-throat emperor, and several other species of coral trout and snapper.

While 49 of these species mass spawn – 84 other species spawn elsewhere in their range.

There’s also 17 species of sea snake which live on the Great Barrier Reef in warm waters up to 50 metres deep, though they are much more common in the southern area of the reef, than in its northern section.

At certain parts of the year, 6 different species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed.

These species include: the green sea turtle, leather-back sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, flat-back turtle, and the olive ridley turtle.

The green sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef have two genetically distinct populations, one which is located in the northern part of the reef, and the other in the southern part.

Fortunately, there’s also 15 species of sea-grass in beds which attract both dugongs and turtles, as well as providing habitat for the fish.

Nevertheless, the Great Barrier Reef is also home to some of the predators of the ocean world.

Saltwater crocodiles can be found living amongst the mangrove and salt marshes towards the coast near the reef.

Nesting has never been reported in the area, and the salt water crocodile population in the Great Barrier Reef tends to be wide ranged – but very low density.

Around 125 species of shark, stingray and chimaera also live on the reef, while close to 5,000 species of mollusc have been noted to exist in the area – including the giant clam.

In the air, there are known to be at least 215 species of birds which visit the Great Barrier Reef, and nest on some of the islands.

Of these, included is the white bellied sea eagle, one of the 1.7 million birds which come to the area to use the sites as breeding groups.

The islands encompassing the Great Barrier Reef even support 2,195 types of known species of plants, and three of these are endemic.

The southern islands, especially the Whitsunday region, are the most diverse and supports 1,141 species of plants which are all propagated by birds.

Climate change is considered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be the biggest threat to the reef.

This is said to cause warming of the ocean which can significantly increase coral bleaching in many areas.

There were also many instances of coral bleaching which occurred due to the rising of the ocean’s temperatures in the summers of 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Eventually, coral bleaching is expected to become a yearly occurrence due to climate change.