Great Barrier Reef Facts

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Millions of tourists come to North Queensland each year and the main attraction is its natural environment – particularly the iconic Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Most people don’t realise how immense it is but the Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2300 kms along the Queensland coastline. It is so big is can be seen from space. Consequently all of the people who come to see it will only ever really see a small percentage of this amazing natural ecosystem.

Interesting Great Barrier Reef Facts

  • The northern end of the reef starts just below Papua New Guinea
  • It is is made up of about 3000 separate reefs
  • It includes over 1000 islands and coral cays
  • It includes about 600 different types of coral
  • About 1500 fish species call it home
  • It also hosts over 130 types of sharks and ray

Protecting the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier is by far the largest reef system in the world with huge biodiversity.

Given it’s environmental significance the Great Barrier Reef has been a World Heritage Area since 1981 and successive Australian Governments have been taking measures to ensure its protection.

It has experienced severe coral loss over the last few decades, and while it is under serious threat of further decline, it is in relatively good shape compared to many others around the world that have been completely destroyed.

However, it would be unforgiveable for Australia to allow the Great Barrier Reef to meet the same fate as other extinct reef systems so the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is keeping a close eye on Australia and its commitment to saving the Reef from further decline.

Recently (2015) they decided to vote against listing the Reef as ‘in danger’ thanks to the Australian Government presenting their Long Term Sustainability Plan for the Reef. This plan includes targets to reduce nitrogen runoff by 80% and sediment by 50%.

While climate change is a global issue, Australia can at least do its best to minimise local threats to the Reef. UNESCO expects the Australian Government to report back regularly on the progress it is making in implementing the plan.

Threats to the Great Barrier Reef

There are several factors threatening the future of the Reef:

  • Climate change – increasing sea temperatures are causing coral bleaching (and more cyclones)
  • Urban development along the Queensland coast – mining is a major industry and these resources are exported on shipping containers through the Reef
  • Cyclones
  • Pollution – chemicals running off the land from farming is a major threat to the Reef. One of the detrimental affects of extra nutrients in the water from agricultural fertilisers is more devastating epidemics are the Crown of Thorns starfish, a marine pest that eats the coral
  • (Illegal) over-fishing

Since only about 3% of the Great Barrier Reef is affected by tourism this is seen as less of a threat although it does clearly have an impact. On the plus side, many tourism operators take the opportunity to educate international visitors about the reef and what they can do to help protect it.

What is Australia doing to protect the Great Barrier Reef?

Some of the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, like climate change, are out of Australia’s direct control but there are a lot of things they can, and are, doing. These include:

  • Working with farming to adopt innovative new farming practices to minimise the chemical runoff into the waterways and into the Reef lagoon
  • Managing tourism operators so they are only allowed to take visitors to focused areas
  • Managing shipping zones through the reef
  • Managing fishing zones