Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef of Western Australia

Divers along a coral wall of the Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef, off that country's north shore is an ecological wonder. It's the largest coral reef in the world and the only living thing visible from outer space. Home to over 2800 species of fish, 215 species of birds, and 500 species of seaweed, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 600 interconnected coral islands. Majestic whales spend their winters there. Dolphins and sea turtles abound, and enough tourists from around the world flock to the reef to make it Australia's number one tourist destination.

Tomato Clownfish in a coral garden, Great Barrier Reef

Over 400 different kinds of coral make up the Great Barrier Reef, some hard and rock-like, other soft and spongy. In fact, approximately 3500 individual reefs make up the 2300 kilometres identified as the Great Barrier Reef. The islands that make up this archipelago can also be fascinating. Some are covered in tropical rain forest; others have huge rock formations and craggy coastlines. Still others boast picture perfect white sand beaches.

Tourism is the reef's biggest industry and one of its biggest challenges. The area's perpetual summer-like weather and calm, warm waters combined with the myriad of sea and plant life draw scuba divers, snorkelers, and day trippers in glass bottom boats by the thousands. Over 1.9 million tourists visit the reef annually. In fact, several of the coral barrier islands, such as Turtle Island and Hayman Island, have been turned into luxury resorts, some of the world's most deluxe. The reef has been named a World Heritage Trust protected site and efforts are on-going to preserve the reef while at the same time making it accessible to tourists.

Global warming is another major threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Many of the coral that make up the reef are currently living at the upper ranges of their temperature range. If the waters become too warm a coral will "bleach" or be caused to expel all its living organisms. If the water doesn't cool sufficiently within a month or so, the coral will die, leaving just a white skeleton.

The Great Barrier Reef is a fascinating and ever-changing living wonder. It deserves our curiosity and our interest, but also our care and our protection. Visit this masterpiece of nature, but take care. The Great Barrier Reef has been here for thousands of years. It should be here for thousands of years to come.

Great Barrier Reef

Stripy reef fish
Clown fish and anemone