The Great Barrier Reef by Ashton Felts
One of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the world’s most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches.
A Tourist Destination
Because of it’s natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef (hereafter referred to as GBR) has become on the of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations. The GBR is one of the seven wonders of natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space.
It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It also holds great scientific interest as the habitat of species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.
Practically the entire ecosystem was inscribed as World Heritage in 1981, covering an area of 348,000 square kilometers (greatbarrierreef.org). The GBR includes extensive cross-shelf diversity, stretching from the low water mark along the mainland coast up to 250 kilometers offshore. This wide depth range includes vast shallow inshore areas, mid-shelf and outer reefs, and beyond the continental shelf to oceanic waters over 2,000 meters deep (unesco.org).
A number of natural pressures occur, including cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, and sudden large influxes of freshwater from extreme weather events. At the scale of the GBR ecosystem, most habits or species groups have the capacity to recover from disturbances or withstand ongoing pressures.
The Importance of a Healthy Ecosystems
Reducing biodiversity through the extinction of species inevitably leads to the breakdown in ecosystem health and function. Healthy ecosystems are essential to provide us with: natural resources such as food and drugs, services we depend on, such as recycling and purification of water and air, the creation of soil, the breakdown of pollutants, etc.
The GBR is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia. It’s the world’s most extensive stretch of coral reef and is probably the richest area in terms of faunal diversity in the world. It’s great diversity reflects the maturity of an ecosystem which has evolved over millions of years on the north-east continental shelf of Australia.
The site includes major feeding grounds for the endangered dugong and nesting grounds of world significance for two endangered species of marine turtle, the green and the loggerhead, as well as habitat for four other species elsewhere, the GBR may be their last secure stronghold.
The GBR, and in particular the northern sector, is important in the historic and contemporary cultures and there is a strong spiritual connection with the ocean and it’s inhabitants.