One of the top attractions for Australia and New Zealand travel is the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest collection of coral reefs. Located in northeast Australia, off the coast of Queensland, it's an important United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site for its outstanding universal value.
If you're travelling down under, consider observing the indescribable beauty and variety of animals within the Great Barrier Reef.
Facts about the reef
Spanning more than 348,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is a site to behold. Within the Great Barrier Reef lies roughly 400 types of coral, 4,000 types of mollusks and 1,500 species of fish. The UNESCO World Heritage area that remains protected by the country includes more than 900 islands of varying sizes and more than 2,500 individual reefs. According to Live Science, the size of the marine park is equivalent to the American West Coast, from Vancouver to the Mexico-U.S. border. In fact, it's even visible from space.
The reef began forming about 500,000 years ago, but the current formation is only roughly 7,000 years old, Live Science explained. During the Ice Age, coral formed along the shores and foothills of the mountains. Once the glaciers began melting, water flowed over the land, turning the burgeoning reef into an underground structure. Depths in the marine park can range from an average of 35 metres near shore to 2,000 metres near sloped drop-offs.
Animals of the reef
The Great Barrier Reef is mainly made of coral polyps, a member of the jellyfish family. Algae called zooxanthellae live on the coral, the result of a mutual relationship between the organisms.
The area surrounding the reef contains more than 30 species of whales, porpoises and dolphins, as well as 17 species of sea snake, which are typically found in the warm, southern region of the reef. With 215 species of birds - 22 species of seabirds and 32 species of shore birds - the Great Barrier Reef is paradise for bird watchers. There are also six species of turtles that mate in the Great Barrier Reef area - the Green Sea Turtle, the Flatback Turtle, the Leatherback Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle and the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.
Threats to the reef
For every ounce of majesty that the Great Barrier Reef holds, there's an equal amount of fragility. It takes specific conditions for the plant and animal species to survive, let alone thrive.
With about 2 million tourists flooding the area each year, the reef is exposed to pollution and potential danger. Various types of pollution have caused parts of the reef and its inhabitants to die, including oil spills from large ships.
Natural causes also contribute to the reef's suffering. When flooding season hits, fertilizer and pesticide runoff enters the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. Additionally, warmer water temperatures and rising water levels have affected the site's health. With water covering wetlands that once served as filters for harmful chemicals like pesticides, the reef is less protected. Certain organisms can't survive in the warmer climate, meaning the increase in water temperature can result in species becoming extinct.