The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world
Viewing The Great Barrier Reef from a greater distance, you can understand why. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space.
One of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.
The reef is a breeding area for humpback whales, migrating from the Antarctic and is also the habitat of a few endangered species including the Dugong (Sea Cow) and large Green Sea Turtle. In recognition of its significance, UNESCO listed the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Because of its natural beauty, both below and above the water’s surface, the reef has become one of the worlds most sought after tourist destinations.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park protects a large part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef from damaging activities. It is a vast multiple-use Marine Park which supports a wide range of uses, including commercial marine tourism, fishing, ports and shipping, recreation, scientific research and Indigenous traditional use.
Fishing and the removal of artefacts or wildlife (fish, coral, seashells, etc.) is strictly regulated, and commercial shipping traffic must stick to certain specific defined shipping routes that avoid the most sensitive areas of the park.
The breathtaking array of marine creatures includes 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.
The Great Barrier Reef is also unique as it extends over 14 degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters.
Within this vast expanse are a unique range of ecological communities, habitats and species – all of which make the Reef one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park:
- covers 344,400 km2 in area
- includes the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem
- includes some 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays and about 150 inshore mangrove islands
- extends south from the northern tip of Queensland in north-eastern Australia to just north of Bundaberg
- is between 60 and 250 kilometres in width
- has an average depth of 35 metres in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2000 metres
- was created in 1975 through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act
- extends into the airspace above and into the earth beneath the seabed.
Just how big is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?
Covering 344,400km2, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is:
- bigger than Victoria and Tasmania combined
- bigger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined
- roughly the same area as Japan, Germany, Malaysia or Italy
- approximately half the size of Texas
- slightly smaller than the entire Baltic Sea.
The Marine Park stretches approximately 2300 km along the coast of Queensland in north-eastern Australia – this is about the same length as the west coast of the USA from Vancouver to the Mexican border.
Threats to the Great Barrier Reef
While the Great Barrier Reef stands as a beautiful testament to the power of natural construction, in recent years several threats have emerged that threaten the future of the reef. The influence of mankind combined with various cyclical and natural factors have created cause for concern amongst both biologists and conservationist groups who do not want to see this precious natural miracle fall into decline.
One of the contributing factors to the reef’s beauty which is simultaneously one of its greatest weaknesses is the level of utter dependence each part of the ecosystem has on one another. If a single organism or species is affected or declines in number, it can have a huge ripple effect both down and up through the Great Barrier Reef’s food chain.
Some of the largest factors and threats that have influenced the worrisome current conditions that the reef finds itself in include:
- HUMAN THREATS such as shipping accidents, oil spills, over-fishing, tourist visits, and mining.
- NATURAL THREATS such as coral bleaching and the Crown of Thorns Starfish, and
- CYCLICAL THREATS such as climate change.