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The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is undisputed as one of the world’s most important natural assets. It is the largest natural feature on earth stretching more than 2,300km along the northeast coast of Australia from the northern tip of Queensland to just north of Bundaberg. That’s about the same area as Japan, Malaysia or Italy and about half the size of Texas!

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) is a series of over 2900 individual reefs, stretching from the tip of Cape York in the north to Lady Elliott Island in the south. Covering over 348 000 km 2, it comprises fringing and barrier reefs, continental islands, coral cays and 70 different bio-regions, making it the most ecologically diverse system in the world.

Although coral reefs have been around for over 500 million years, the GBR is relatively young at 500 000 years, and this most modern form is only 8000 years old, having developed after the last ice age.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park supports the greatest concentration of life on the planet with over 1,500 species of fish, 450 types of hard corals, 4,000 species of molluscs and 10,000 species of sponges. Six of the world’s 7 species of sea turtles are found here. Whales are often encountered in these waters from May to September.

At a glance

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest UNESCO heritage listed area
  • Covers a huge 348,000 square km (134,364 sq miles)
  • 1975 was declared a Marine Park
  • 1981 inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List
  • It is not just one reef, but made up of over 2900 reefs, 600 rocky continental islands and 300 coral cays.

Map courtesy GBRMPA

Listen to Dr Glen Burns explain why some corals aren’t more colourful…

Learn so much more with the Reef Biosearch team. If you’re researching for projects, interest or more information about the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is a great resource.

What stresses does the Reef face?

The Great Barrier Reef, like all natural environments, faces stresses. Many natural environments face challenges from climate change.

Increasing levels of carbon pollution globally will see oceans become more acidic and sea temperatures rise. If this continues it will cause fundamental changes to all reefs (and many other natural ecosystems) around the world.

Water quality is paramount. Reducing pollution, runoff into our waterways and excess nutrients are things we can control locally. Great work is being done in these areas.

Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) and Drupella snails are recognised as threats. When their densities eat coral faster than it can grow, intervention is needed. With dedicated divers and marine biologist teams, we have permits to run our own COTS eradication and Drupella removal programs at our sites. A reef-wide COTS eradication program is managed independently.

Climate Action – How can we all help?

Greenhouse gas emissions are produced from using products that require fuel and electricity. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions are believed to be responsible for climate change.

No matter how small we feel our actions may be, collectively we can all male a difference.  Here’s some simple tips from GBRMPA about how we can help reduce our “carbon footprint” and ultimately look after the health of the Reef:

  • Switch to ‘green’ electricity from renewable sources.
  • Use energy efficient lights.
  • Choose energy efficient products.
  • Turn off electrical devices when not in use.
  • Turn off lights around the house.
  • Refuse, reduce, re-use and recycle.
  • Use less hot water.
  • Dry your clothes the natural way, not in the dryer.
  • Plant trees which take up carbon dioxide as they grow.
  • Heat and cool your house efficiently.
  • Drive less: car pool, use public transport, walk or cycle.
  • Spread the word to others.
Turtle staring at camera