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Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's greatest reef system, stretching more than 2000km along Queensland's north-east coast. As the world's largest and most complex reef system, it has thousands of individual coral reefs and hundreds of continental islands, reef islands and cays, small bare sand cays, and permanent vegetated cays.

Described as the 'eighth' natural wonder of the world, the reef can be seen from the moon! It's one of the most biologically diverse systems on earth and contains habitats for a number of rare and threatened species.

Aboriginal people have a close relationship with the reef, maintaining strong cultural links with the area. The region also supports major tourism and recreation such as boating, fishing and diving as well as research, fishing industries and shipping routes.

Most of the reef is protected in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is responsible for managing the Reef and island national parks on the Reef. Management responsibility is shared with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

State marine parks outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are managed solely by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

The Queensland and Australian Governments have developed the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan to protect the Reef from land-based sources of diffuse pollution. The goal of the Plan is to halt and then reverse the decline in water quality entering the Reef within 10 years.

About the Reef

The Great Barrier Reef covers some 20,000km2 of reef surface, the area is bigger than Victoria or Great Britain and half the size of Texas.

The Reef is made by billions of living organisms that secrete limestone. These are principally corals, which can extract dissolved limestone from the water and lay it down as hard limestone cups around the lower half of their bodies. If necessary, coral polyps can pull their whole bodies inside these limestone cups for protection.

The combined limestone cups of many colonies of coral polyps form larger corals of many different shapes, sizes and colours. Around 400 different types of hard and soft corals exist. Algae and sponges grow between coral communities and help cement them into solid reefs.

Animals in the Great Barrier Reef region include thousands of species of molluscs (clams, snails and their relatives); thousands of different sponges, worms and crustaceans (crabs, shrimps and their relatives); echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and their relatives); and many other less familiar creatures.

More than 1500 species of fish live on the Reef, which also provides breeding areas for humpback whales, sea turtles and dugong.

In recognition of its universal value, the Great Barrier Reef was inscribed on the World Heritage list on October 1981.

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Last updated
25 March 2015