Coral and the Great Barrier Reef

One of the most incredible features of any reef found around the world is coral. These living organisms are an important part of a marine ecosystem, and can be classified as both hard and soft coral. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is the world’s largest coral reef with over 2,900 different individual reefs around 900 islands!

The way coral is made is an interesting operation. Big reef structures like those found in the Great Barrier Reef are formed when the stony coral organism (polyp) create a skeleton of calcium carbonate, thus creating a base layer for itself. From there, layers and layers are formed, establishing a certain sized coral.

Millions of stony coral can grow on top of each other, even after certain parts have died. These colonies cancoral weigh several tons. Depending on many outside conditions like the amount of light, the depth of the water, etc. coral grows at a very slow rate. Majority of coral only grows two centimetres per year. This has become a problem in the Great Barrier Reef as many parts of the reef system are in danger of being ruined by boats, tourists, and other visitors, who do not understand the importance of coral in that particular ecosystem.

While tourists may not understand their entire significance, the coral in the Great Barrier Reef is just one of the reasons millions of people travel out to Queensland to see the World Heritage site. There are over 600 different types of coral in the reef, creating a spectacular experience for anyone with or without an underwater camera. Coral feed off light just like other plants in other ecosystems, but also eat plankton, and other organisms found in the water.

Soft corals are sometimes mistaken for plants, as they sway with the movement of water. They are also the most colourful of coral, and contain eight different tentacles that collect food and light. Many fish and other creatures make their home in between the soft coral’s tentacles, as they provide a safe place away from marine predators by camouflaging their residents with their variety of colours. Since many mistake the coral for plants, they give off a poisonous chemical when fish and other crustaceans try to eat them as a defence mechanism. Coral get their vibrant colours from the release of proteins, while other corals who colours are brown, gain their hue from algae that live within them.

Either dive or snorkel the reef to see all the different types of coral on one of our Great Barrier Reef Tours.