Great Barrier Reef - The world’s largest reef system along the Australian coast (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Great Barrier Reef
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, Australia’s aquatic marvel, sprawls across an area about the size of Germany and stretches 1,430 miles (2,300 km) down the Queensland coast. Though known for its posh private island resorts and iconic scuba diving spots, the reef has been an integral part of the region’s indigenous human culture, economy, and spirituality for millennia. The only living thing on our planet that can be seen from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef comprises about 900 islands and 3,000 individual reefs arrayed between the Torres Strait (which separates Australia from New Guinea) and just north of Fraser Island. In addition to intricate coral structures, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park safeguards an amazing range of natural habitats, including mangrove estuaries, sea-grass beds, sponge gardens, and deep ocean areas.
Even more astounding is the number and variety of life forms the reef supports: 600 coral species and more than 1,500 different types of tropical fish; 30 species of whales and dolphins, as well as sea turtles and the threatened dugong; about 3,000 different types of mollusks—including giant clams that can reach 120 years of age—and more than 100 jellyfish species. The skies above the reef teem with more than 200 bird species. And scattered across the islands are nearly two dozen species of reptiles, including the deadly saltwater crocodile, an excellent swimmer. This aggressive creature is lightning quick, fond of large meals, and should be assiduously avoided by people. An average male can grow 17 feet long (5 m) and 1,000 pounds (450 kg).
Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders used the reef and its myriad natural resources for thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans in the early 17th century. French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, who sailed past in 1768, was the first to describe the reef. Two years later, Captain James Cook and the Endeavour famously ran aground on a portion of the reef near Cape Tribulation. Captain William Bligh was another early European visitor.
But for the most part, the Europeans who settled Australia ignored the reef, other than sporadically mining it for guano and conducting hydrological surveys. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it came to be viewed as an incredible natural phenomenon and tourism attraction. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created in 1975.
Despite vigorous protection, the reef is not immune to threats from beyond its waters, including pollution caused by mining and farming on the mainland, crown of thorns sea star infestations, and rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change.