11 Amazing Facts About The Great Barrier Reef!

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Australia’s Queensland and is home to a vast array of marine life.

Adventures around this spectacular area can take place from the air, by boat, or by diving beneath the waves and swimming alongside the spectacular . You’ve probably seen and heard a lot about this underwater wonderland but in case you haven’t, here’s everything you need to know…

  • 1. It is the world’s largest reef system


    With almost 3,000 individual reefs, 900 islands, and stretching for 2,600km there is no denying the reef is massive. This incredible living system can even be viewed from space. If you want to get an idea of size, then imagine the country of Italy lying just off the coast of Australia and you begin to get an idea of its vastness.

  • 2. It is home to an incredible diversity of species


    Attempting to list all the species here would be a challenge to say the least so here are some of the most impressive groups that the reef is home to:

    • 30 species of whale, dolphin, and porpoise
    • 6 species of turtle
    • 17 species of sea snake
    • More than 1,500 species of fish – incredibly, 10% of the world’s fish species inhabit the Great Barrier Reef.
  • 3. Corals are alive

    So what is a coral, you ask? Corals are formed by tiny creatures called polyps that have a sac-like body with emerging tentacles. Corals gain their rock-like structure from the polyps as they use calcium and carbonate ions from the seawater to create a hard outer skeleton to protect their soft bodies. These polyps survive due to their relationship with the algae that live alongside them. The algae absorb light from the sun and subsequently feed the coral. The algae also give the corals their bright colours. Corals are, in fact, nocturnal and it is under the cover of darkness that the polyps emerge from their outer casings to catch small creatures that pass by.

  • 4. The reef is further out than you may think

    Great Barrier Reef View

    Whilst coral reefs thrive in warm, shallow waters, these are not always close to shore. A barrier reef is defined as a coral reef running parallel to the shore but separated by a large lagoon. Visitors to the reef may be surprised that their boat trip could take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to reach the dive site so remember your travel sickness pills if it’s a windy day!

  • 5. The threats to the reef are numerous

    Sadly, the reef is struggling to survive with climate change being the main threat. Rising sea temperatures and pollution leave the coral more susceptible to bleaching and, tragically, eventual death. Tourism can also play a role, with swimmers and divers touching and damaging parts of the reef as well as leaving behind rubbish and contaminating the waters with sun cream and other pollutants.

  • 6. A bleached reef isn’t always a dead reef

    Coral bleaching occurs when changes in conditions cause the polyps to expel the algae on which it depends to survive. It is the algae which give the corals their colour so, of course, no algae means a bleached, colourless reef. Not all corals will immediately die following this event, however they are left without their primary food supply and are therefore more at risk of starvation and disease. Corals can recover after bleaching providing that conditions return to normal and they are not put under strain too soon afterward.

  • 7. There is hope for the reef’s return

    Protection of the Great Barrier Reef is a top priority for the Australian Government and conservationists, so you’ll be happy to hear that measures are being taken to help protect this natural wonder. Efforts are being made to reduce sediment runoff and advanced laboratory techniques are allowing resilient corals to be grown away from the reef and planted in the wild when they are ready. Also, whilst tourism can play a part in the reef’s problems, it is also a part of the solution. With over 2 million visitors a year, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most popular attractions in Australia and generates $5-6 billion per year. Money from reef tourism contributes massively to reef protection and the more people that love the reef, the more will be determined to help it survive.

  • 8. The reef is millions of years old!

    Great Barrier Reef Corals

    The living corals which form the reef now are sat upon old, dead structures. These corals of the past could be up to 20 million years old!

  • 9. Prehistoric creatures still live there

    Great Barrier Reef Creatures

    As already mentioned, some of the coral structures could date back millions of years, but so too could some of the creatures living there. The alien-like nautilus is a distant cousin to the squid but what makes this creature unique is that it appears to have remained relatively unchanged over the last 500 million years!

  • 10. Corals only spawn once a year

    When conditions are right, often after a full moon, the incredible phenomenon of coral reproduction takes place. An entire colony can synchronise, with each polyp releasing its genetic matter into the water creating a scene reminiscent of a snowstorm. This event can leave deposits on the surface of the water visible from space! Following this, new corals can form. Amazingly, it can take a single polyp to start a new reef!

  • 11. Visit in the winter

    The summer months may seem like a great time to visit the reef. But aside from the scorching temperatures, what may put you off a summer visit are the stingers. Stinger season stretches from November to May and within this time you could find yourself wearing a stinger suit in the water or only swimming within enclosures. But have no fear! Whilst it is cooler in the winter, the air and water temperatures are still pleasant and, most importantly, you’ll avoid a dreaded jellyfish encounter.

Related article: Top 5 things to do in the Great Barrier Reef