11 amazing facts about the Great Barrier Reef!

11 amazing facts about the Great Barrier Reef!

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 08/13/2019

Reading time: 6 mins

The Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Australia’s Queensland and is home to a vast array of marine life.

The Great Barrier Reef is a world-famous destination and is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This spectacular area can be explored by helicopter, by glass-bottomed boat, or by snorkelling and diving.

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. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system


    There is no denying the reef is massive! It is made up of almost 3,000 individual reefs, 900 islands and stretches for 2,600 kilometres. 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. With that image in mind, you truly begin to get an idea of the reef’s 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. However. we can name a few of the most impressive species living in the reef!

    There are over 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Six species of turtles live on the reef. There are 17 different species of sea snakes living here. Finally, over 1,500 species of fish call the Great Barrier Reef their home. That’s 10% of the world’s fish species!

  • 3. The reef’s corals are alive

    So what is a coral, you ask?
    Corals are formed by tiny creatures called polyps that have sac-like bodies with emerging tentacles. Corals gain their rock-like structure from the polyps as they use calcium and carbonate ions from the seawater. This creates 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 sits further offshore 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!

  • 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 in harming the reef. The reef can be harmed when swimmers and divers touch and therefore damage parts of the reef. People sometimes also leave behind rubbish and contaminate 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 they depend to survive. It is the algae that 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 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 afterwards.

  • 7. There is hope for saving the reef

    Protection of the Great Barrier Reef is a top priority for the Australian Government and conservationists. Because of this, 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. Advanced laboratory techniques are also allowing resilient corals to be grown away from the reef and planted back into the wild.

    Whilst tourism can play a part in harming the reef, it can also be 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. The more people that love the reef, the more resources can be used to help it survive.

  • 8. The Great Barrier Reef is millions of years old!

    Great Barrier Reef Corals

    The living corals that form the reef now sit upon old, dead structures. These corals of the past could be a shocking 20 million years old!

  • 9. Prehistoric creatures still live in the reef

    Great Barrier Reef Creatures

    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. 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. The Great Barrier Reef is a great place to 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. Within this time you could find yourself wearing a stinger suit in the water or only swimming within monitored enclosures. But have no fear! Whilst it is cooler in the winter, the air and water temperatures are still very pleasant. And most importantly, you’ll avoid a dreaded jellyfish encounter.

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

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.