A couple of months ago, Outside Magazine published an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef, informing the readers that the iconic coral reef system “died after a long illness.” The good news is the article was greatly exaggerated; the Great Barrier Reef is not dead yet. However, the bad news is the reef is in serious trouble, and it really is going to die if we don’t help it recover. This great Reef is one of the largest and most spectacular natural features on the planet, and we definitely should do our very best to save it. To raise awareness about the Reef and the difficulties it has been struggling with, we decided to compile this post with 25 Interesting Great Barrier Reef Facts You’ll Want To Hear.
The world's largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef, is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
With its area of over 345,000 sq km (134,000 sq mi), the Great Barrier Reef is larger than most countries. The reef would place 63rd, just between Germany and the Republic of the Congo. It is also larger than most American states, outdone only by Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana.
The Great Barrier Reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene Epoch, some 25 million years ago.
The world's biggest structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef is so big it can actually be seen from outer space.
The reef is a biodiversity hotspot; it is home to more than 1500 species of fish, 215 species of birds, more than 3000 species of mollusks, 6 of the world’s 7 species of marine turtles, 30 species of whales and dolphins, one of the world’s most important dugong populations and much more.
The reef has been under several environmental pressures including climate change, pollution, over-fishing, oil spills etc. These threats have led to mass coral bleaching. Scientists estimate that more 93% of the reef is now affected by bleaching, putting the reef in danger of extinction.
CNN labeled the Great Barrier Reef one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
James Cook, a famous British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy, ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef with the HM Bark Endeavour on 11 June 1770, sustaining considerable damage. Cook managed to repair the ship and get out of the area though.
The Great Barrier Reef has long been known to and used by the Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been living in the area for tens of thousands of years. The Australian government even recognizes these clan groups as the “traditional owners of the reef.”
The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by the crown-of-thorns starfish. This large, multiple-armed starfish prey upon coral polyps that create the reef. The starfish's natural predators are frequently over-fished, which leads to uncontrolled outbreaks of these sea stars.
There is a sunken ship beneath the reef. The passenger ship SS Yongala sank in the area on 23 March 1911 after it got destroyed by a cyclone. All 122 aboard were killed in the accident. The wreck now serves as home for numerous marine creatures.
A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Created in 1975 by the Australian government, the park helps to protect the reef and limit the impact of human use.
While the average depth of the inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef hovers around 35 m (115 ft), the drop-off from the Continental Shelf slopes down to depths of more than 2 km (1.2 mi).
The hard coral that acts as the backbone of the Great Barrier Reef only grows a minuscule 1.5 cm (0.6 in) each year.
In just 27 years, between 1985 and 2012, the Great Barrier Reef lost more than half of its corals.
In late 2014, Google launched Google Underwater Street View, including 2,300 km (1,400 mi) of the Great Barrier Reef in 3D. The images are taken by special cameras which turn 360 degrees and shoot in every 3 seconds.
The Great Barrier Reef is so complex and has such a diverse ecosystem that only tropical rainforests can rival its incredible richness of species.
UNESCO declared the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage Site in 1981, stating it is “of superlative natural beauty above and below the water, and provides some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.“
An extremely popular tourist attraction, the Great Barrier Reef attracted tourism worth $6.4 billion and employed more than 64,000 people in 2013.
One of the suggested solutions on how to save the Great Barrier Reef was to move it to a more hospitable place. A five-ton part of a coral reef was successfully relocated in Dubai in 2008. However, moving a coral reef system the size of a large country would be logistically impossible.
Each November, the reef’s corals spend a week participating in mass reproduction, releasing huge amounts of sperm and eggs. Colloquially known as “sex on the reef,” this mass spawning is thought to be due to moon phases and water temperature.
Australian governments invested $2 billion in a project known as Reef 2050 Plan that focuses on improving water quality, reducing run off, and eradicating crown-of-thorns starfish.
A reef tax of $6 per day is paid by any visitor to the reef over the age of four, with money going to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their ongoing efforts to protect the delicate ecosystem.
Coral reefs help to improve the surrounding water quality. They act as a filter that traps things floating in the water. That is why water around the Great Barrier Reef is so crystal-clear.
There are more species of fish living in a two acre area of a coral reef than there are species of birds in all of North America.
Photos: 25. Sarah Ackerman via flickr, 23. Obsidien & Dimitris Siskopoulos via wikimedia commons, 22. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via flickr, 21. Brocken Inaglory via wikimedia commons, 20. Eco Cafe Phuket via flickr, 19. Toby Hudson via wikimedia commons, 16. Jon Hanson via flickr, 15. User: (WT-shared) Puzzlement at wts wikivoyage, 14. CSIRO via wikimedia commons, 13. Great Barrier Reef Encounter via wikimedia commons, 12. Nick Hobgood via wikimedia commons, 11. Cookaa via wikimedia commons, 9. Brocken Inaglory via wikimedia commons, 7. I.DeSouza via wikimedia commons, 6. Lock the Gate Alliance via flickr, 5. Nick Hobgood via wikimedia commons, 4. Paul Toogood via flickr, 3. (WT-shared) Queensland at wts wikivoyage via wikimedia commons