The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea. It is off the northeast coast of Australia’s state of Queensland. The 2300 kilometer (1430 mile) Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. You can swim, snorkel, dive and sail this living masterpiece. The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia, is the largest living thing on Earth, and even visible from outer space. The 2,300 km-long ecosystem comprises thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over 600 types of hard and soft coral. It’s home to countless species of colorful fish, molluscs and starfish, plus turtles, dolphins and sharks.
The Great Barrier Reef is about 500,000 years old, but it hasn’t always looked as it does today. Reefs on Australia’s continental shelf have taken on many forms, depending on the sea level, and the current formation is about 6,000 to 8,000 years old. This is one of the oldest living coral reefs in the world, and also is one of the largest, too. This reef stretches more than 1,430 miles spanning an area of more than 135,000 square miles, and is aptly named as one of the “Wonders of the World.” But the beautiful coral isn’t all that you get to see, there are more than 2,000 different kinds of fish and more than 500 species of coral polyps. If you really want to enjoy smooth access to this amazing and must-see site, make sure that you visit two towns nearby: Cairns and Townsville.
Globally, the ocean has warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, by a conservative calculation, and a bit more in the tropics, home to many reefs. An additional kick was supplied by an El Niño weather pattern that peaked in 2016 and temporarily warmed much of the surface of the planet, causing the hottest year in a historical record dating to 1880.
It was obvious last year that the corals on many reefs were likely to die, but now formal scientific assessments are coming in. The paper in Nature documents vast coral bleaching in 2016 along a 500-mile section of the reef north of Cairns, a city on Australia’s eastern coast. Bleaching indicates that corals are under heat stress, but they do not always die
and cooler water can help them recover. Subsequent surveys of the Great Barrier Reef, conducted late last year after the deadline for inclusion in the Nature paper, documented that extensive patches of reef had in fact died, and would not be likely to recover soon, if at all.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it 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.
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 and added to the National Heritage List in 2007. Because of its natural beauty, both below and above the water’s surface, the reef has become one of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations. In 2006 there were approximately 820 operators and 1500 vessels and aircraft permitted to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park providing ease of access for all to experience the Great Barrier Reef and learn firsthand about its natural delights and World Heritage values.
More than two million people visit the reef each year generating more than $AU2 billion in tourism dollars, making tourism a major earner for the north-eastern Australian economy. Tourists are carried to the reef system by more than 500 commercial vessels, and tourism is permitted through nearly all the Park. Scuba diving and tours via small boats and aircraft are the most popular activities on the reef. Most of the Reef is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and various parts of it are protected in certain ways. For example, fishing is restricted in some areas and particular animals – like whales, dolphins, green turtles and dugong – are protected.
Tourism may also have a negative impact, with fragile corals broken by reef walking, dropped anchors or by boats dropping fuel and other sorts of pollution. Even the number of people in the water with the associated run-off of sweat and suntan lotions may well have a negative impact on the fragile reef environment. Before visiting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it is important you study the zoning map for the area you are visiting to be sure of the activities that you can do and where you can do them.
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.
The Marine Park Authority also recognizes the need to protect the cultural and heritage values held by traditional owners. Since 2004, Indigenous tradition owners and government agencies are working together in relation to the traditional use of marine resources.