Located in the Coral Sea, just off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet. Stretching for more than 1400 miles, it is comprised of 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It is home to around one-third of the world’s protected marine life. Its significance to the entire world was acknowledged in 1981 with its designation as World Heritage Site.
The importance of the Great Barrier Reef
The landscapes and seascapes of the Great Barrier Reef provide some the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world. There are over 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, and 240 species of birds, as well as a great diversity of sponges, anemones, worms, and crustaceans. The area also has cultural significance to the local Aboriginal people, with stories about the creation of the reef passed down through generations. “Bhiral, the Creator, threw lava and hot rocks down from the sky, causing the sea to rise and the lava to cool — forming what is now known as the Great Barrier Reef.”
Sadly, this environmental treasure and all the species that call it home, are at increased risk of destruction. Environmental problems such as climate change, water pollution and overfishing have led to the destruction of large areas of the reef. More than 50% of its coral coverage was lost between 1985 and 2012. Warmer ocean temperatures have led to coral bleaching events, which involves the corals releasing the algae living in their tissues. El Nino led to mass coral bleaching in 2016 resulting in the coral losing their color and being at risk of dying. Coral bleaching is a big concern when it comes to the health of the reef, as many marine species rely on a healthy reef system for survival. The extent of the existing damage already outweighs the speed in which it can be repaired naturally. For the reef to maintain its diverse ecosystems and survive, human intervention is required to protect it.
Over 3 million people from all over the world visit the Great Barrier Reef every year. Its beauty is legendary, it is a paradise for scuba and snorkeling, it offers the ability to get up close and personal with a vast array of marine species including 6 of the 7 types of marine turtles, and it sports some of the most pristine white sand beaches in the world. By an accident of geography, the most wondrous sites for public viewing are the ones spared the worst damage from the bleaching. And although one might think that tourism is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the reef, this is not actually true. Just 7% of the reef is set aside for tourism. Tourism helps spread the word of how important the reef is to protect. Many of tour operators include visits to world-class research facilities, where guests can learn about the ecosystem and participate in experiments. There are many apps that allow visitors to take photographs and submit them to researchers so they can track the condition of the reef from thousands of perspectives. In addition, tourist dollars contribute to reef protection and management. Visitors pay a federal Environmental Management Charge as part of their ticket price. These funds help the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provide such things as ranger patrols, site planning, reef protection markers and information signs and maps. Watch the video below to learn more about the magic of the Great Barrier Reef.
Ventresca Travel can help you plan your once in a lifetime visit to this wonderful place. Contact Mary to get started!