Top 7 Facts About The Great Barrier Reef

By Antonia Čirjak on January 27 2020 in Environment

The underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef, located off the northeast coast of Australia, is the biggest reef structure on Earth. Extending for over 2000 km (1250 miles), this Reef is one of the most intriguing ecosystems people will ever have the chance to explore. 

We Can See It From Space

If 2000 km does not sound like that long, have in mind that the surface of the Great Barrier Reef covers more square footage than Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the UK combined. As the world’s biggest reef complex, it contains more than 2900 smaller individual reefs, which create over 900 islands. 

Made From Skeletons?

Living coral.
Living coral.

Well, yes, you read this right. The Great Barrier Reef has been forming itself for millions of years, and the procedure has remained the same for all this time. Once the various marine life forms come to the end of their life cycle, their remains start to fall down towards the bottom. Those calcareous remains of sea life forms are called polyps and hydro corals. These remains act like bricks when building the Reef, and they are all glued together with the help of coralline algae and bryozoans. 

600+ Coral Species And Dominant Algae

The Great Barrier Reef is a home for hundreds of species; fish and birds, crabs and prawns, sponges, worms, lobsters, crayfish, and many more spend their life circulating the Reef. The Reef is a home for over 600 different hard and soft coral species. Three dominant types of algae inhabit the Reef: green alga known as Halimeda is found all over the place, and the other two Lithothamnion and Porolithon, give the Great Barrier Reef his recognizable purple and red variations in color.  

First Exploration In The 18th Century

Captain Cook bicentenary stamp. Credit: Amateur007 / Shutterstock.com
Captain Cook bicentenary stamp. Credit: Amateur007 / Shutterstock.com

In 1770, one of the most famous captains ever - James Cook, got stuck with his ship when he approached Australia from the northeast. That marked the beginning of creating passages that would enable the ships to travel across the Reef. This type of activity continued until the 19th century. Currently, the laboratory that does the most research on the Reef is located on Heron Island, located in the southern part of the Reef. 

Other Species

Humpback Whale Calf.
Humpback Whale Calf.

On the Great Barrier Reef, we can find 1625 different species of fish, which is 10% of the whole planet’s fish population. 215 species of birds live and fly around the Reef. They are enjoying the company of 30 different types of whales and dolphins. 6 of the 7 known marine turtle species also live on the Reef. Finally, the Reef is a home for even 133 different types of sharks and rays. 

World Heritage

How vital the Reef is to the planet has been recognized in 1981, when the Reef made the UNESCO World Heritage list. The area that is protected by UNESCO covers the area of 348,000 square kilometers, which is close to 135,000 square miles. This means that even 7% of the overall World Heritage is the one made of coral reefs.

What Threatens The Great Barrier Reef?

Unfortunately, this vibrant ecosystem that has been re-creating itself and growing for millions of years in endangered, mostly due to climate changes. The oceans are getting warmer, and that is not a situation the Reef can handle, leading to coral bleaching. In 2002, scientists noticed a significant change, when over 50% of the reef coral showed signs of bleaching.

More in Environment