The Great Barrier Reef is the largest formation located in the Pacific Ocean

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world. It sits off the northeast coast of Australia, spanning nearly 2,300 km along the mainland shoal. The reef is 2 km wide at the northern end and about 150 km wide at the southern end. This underwater work of art is one of Australia’s most famous and colorful attractions, attracting tourists from all over the world every year.

The structure of the Great Barrier Reef is made up of billions of tiny organisms known as coral polyps. It is the only result of organisms on earth that can be seen from space! The largest coral ecosystem on our planet has over 2,900 individual coral reefs and 900 islands in the Coral Sea. The reef covers 348,698 km² (compared to 244,820 km² for Great Britain). A record number of informative nature films have been made about this huge marine park.

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Video: Great Barrier Reef

Tourists

The National Trust has named the Great Barrier Reef as Queensland’s calling card. Tourism is an important part of economic activity in the region, generating more than $3 billion annually.

Hotels and infrastructure have been built on the major islands. These places – the embodiment of the idea of “heaven on earth”: a unique nature, excellent climate, amazingly comfortable water and air temperature, white sandy beaches, comfortable hotels and friendly service staff. This is the perfect place for lovers of active recreation. You can, for example, rent snorkeling equipment and take advantage of diving instructors. Excellent pastime will be boat trips on yachts and catamarans, fishing and all kinds of water sports. There’s also plenty to do on land, including miniature golf, go-karting, visiting the exotic Australian animal park, horse and bike rides. Hamilton Island even has an airport. The small island of Bedarra will appeal to those who want to relax in silence and hide from prying eyes. No more than 32 people can stay here at a time, because there are only 16 villas. You can also stay at the resorts of Dunk, Brampton, Hatzman, Keppel, Haimam, Heron, Magnetic, Orpheus, and Green. But there are islands on the Great Barrier Reef that have never been visited by humans.

The Great Barrier Reef Panorama

Great Barrier Reef Ecosystem

It is almost impossible to describe the richness of the underwater world found on the Great Barrier Reef!

The species diversity is astounding! More than 1500 species of fish, 4000 mollusks, over 200 species of birds… find their home in the marine park.

Reef community includes coelenterates (polyps, jellyfish), many species of mollusks (gastropods, bivalves, cephalopods, etc.), sea turtles, snakes, worms, echinoderms (sea urchins, stars, snake-tails), bottom and free-floating fish, and marine mammals (dolphins, dugongs).

All this whirlpool of life exists under the strict laws of nature and natural selection, where everyone can be both predator and prey.

Sharks are also of genuine interest. The Great Barrier Reef is home to a wide variety of marine predators that are “coral garden sanitarians. On the bottom, squatinoids, carpet sharks, multitooth sharks, collar sharks and other species of bottom sharks prey. Here you can see nurse sharks, leopard sharks, feline sharks, spiny representatives of these cartilaginous fish. In the water column, among coral thickets, there are numerous reef sharks, catching and eating small reef animals and fish. There are large sharks – sand, hammerhead, lemon, and even white. Divers, swimmers and surfers should be especially careful in these areas.

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There is also the famous whale shark! It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest fish on the planet. But you should not be afraid of it: the “sea monster” feeds only on plankton. Dolphins and killer whales constantly hunt near the reef. Their victims are often humpback whales and minke whales. Breeding of humpback whales occurs near the Great Barrier Reef from June to August. On the southern islands of the reef, sea turtles lay their eggs, which are currently threatened with extinction.

All the “tasty” sea creatures – huge octopuses, squids, lobsters, lobsters, also live on the Great Barrier Reef. And lately, there have been truly huge populations of crown-of-thorns starfish. Today, this starfish is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. In a couple of months, it can destroy large numbers of corals. A graveyard of coral forms where these stars, which can kill even an adult with their venom, live. Until really effective methods to combat the “crown of thorns” have not yet been invented, and unfortunately, the destruction of entire reefs occurs more and more often.

In addition to sea creatures on coral islands there are more than 200 species of birds. As for flora, it is very poorly represented. In the area of the reef barely scraped 40 species of plants that can survive in conditions where even the groundwater is characterized by high salt content. But this drawback is more than off-set by the unique aquatic fauna.

Despite its size and massiveness, the Great Barrier Reef is quite vulnerable. As its inhabitants are an integral interconnected part of the ecosystem, the population of one species of creatures should sharply decrease or increase – the reef will be in serious danger. This was the case in the 1970s and 1980s, repeated today, when the number of crown-of-thorns starfish increased dramatically.According to a study published in October 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of the coral polyps that make up its structure since 1985.

Another major problem has been massive coral bleaching due to a dramatic warming of the water. Algae living within the coral itself are dying off and the symbiosis is breaking down. Corals are replacing the dead algae that give them their bright, attractive coloring.

The Great Barrier Reef is the eighth wonder of the world, admirable and worthy of care. It supports life and biodiversity of living organisms, thanks to which it was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Much of the reef is protected by the Marine National Park, which helps limit the harm from the results of human activities – fishing, pollution, tourism.

History

The Great Barrier Reef has attracted people since ancient times. About 10,000 years ago, Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders settled on coral islands.

In 1768, French navigator Louis de Bougainville discovered the Great Barrier Reef during an exploratory expedition, but he did not claim the rights to its territory to France. Thus, the discoverer of the Great Barrier Reef was the famous explorer James Cook. On June 11, 1770, his ship HM Bark Endeavour ran aground on the reef and sustained considerable damage. The approaching tide saved the ship and allowed it to continue sailing. The incident left a deep mark on the navigator’s soul; in his diary Cook wrote: “. The perils we had previously avoided were but a fraction of those of being cast adrift on the reefs, where in a moment there would have been nothing left of the ship. Continuing northward, James Cook found a navigable passage near Lizard Island and was able to put the ship onto the high seas.

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Many ships, maneuvering between the coral islands, were wrecked. But the research continued, as routes to the major trading cities of India and China and the shortest route from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean passed through the Torres Strait. For decades sailors argued over which route was safer: the outer route (through the Coral Sea with passage through the reef) or the inner route (between the shore and the reef). One of the most famous shipwrecks on the Great Barrier Reef was HMS Pandora, which sank on August 29, 1791. In 1815 Charles Jeffreys became the first man to sail a ship along the entire Barrier Reef from the land side. But it wasn’t until the 1840s, after much of the Great Barrier Reef had been explored and mapped in detail, that this route became safer. In the 19th century, scientists began a detailed study of the reef. At the same time business people arrived here, hoping to realize their commercial potential. By the end of the 19th century pearls and trepangs from the Great Barrier Reef were being exported to London, Singapore and Hong Kong. The famous French scientist-traveler Jacques-Yves Cousteau also worked hard here, off the eastern shores of Australia.

Visiting this magnificent marine park, tourists get into a real, colorful, unforgettable fairy tale, which is impossible to convey in photos! We hope the Great Barrier Reef can be preserved as an ecosystem so that our descendants can enjoy this natural masterpiece for decades to come.

Great Barrier Reef

A section of the Great Barrier Reef – a view from space. The Great Barrier Reef is not a continuous complex. It is made up of thousands of interconnected segments, with the most massive and oldest ones at its northern extremity

UNESCO World Heritage Site 154. – Eng. – Fr.

Great Barrier Reef: a chain of coral reefs and islands in the Coral Sea extending 2,500 km along the northeast coast of Australia [1]. It extends from south to north, starting at the Tropic of Capricorn between the towns of Gladstone and Bandaberg and ending in the waters of the Torres Strait separating Australia from New Guinea. Its total area is 348,698 km², larger than that of Great Britain [2] . It is about 2 km wide in the northern part and 152 km wide in the southern part [1] . Most of the reef is underwater (exposed at low tide). In the south, the reef is 300 km offshore, and further north, at Cape Melville, it approaches the mainland at a distance of up to 32 km [2].

A number of reefs have turned into coral islands under the influence of abrasion and accumulation activity of the sea. Marine National Park (over 5 million hectares) founded in 1979, included in the World Heritage List); protection of flora and fauna of the coasts and shallow waters [1] [2] .

Contents

Origin and conditions of formation

The modern history of its development is about 8,000 years old. New strata continue to appear on the old foundation. The Great Barrier Reef formed along a stable shelf platform, where shallow depth and little earth surface displacement allowed extensive colonies of reef-forming corals to form [2] . Reef-forming corals can only grow in warm, shallow, clear sea water, and their growth is strongly influenced by sea level rise and fall. For most of its geological history, Australia was too cold for corals to exist in its coastal waters. However, about 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous, the continent began moving north as it split off from Antarctica. When an ice sheet formed on the surface of Antarctica, the Earth’s sea level dropped by about 100 meters. Australia’s movement into the tropics [2] . coincided with a rise in sea level, resulting in the conditions necessary for coral reefs to form near its northeast coast. The Great Barrier Reef arose on an area of the seabed which had served as a watershed for rivers flowing across the continent before it was submerged. Most of the Barrier Reef is less than 400,000 years old [2] (at other times sea level was too low) and some parts of it have formed within the last 200 years [2] . The most intense growth occurred in the last 8,000 years [2] after a marked rise in sea level. The youngest reefs are located on top of the older ones, at an average depth of 15-20 meters [2] .

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The vulnerability of coral reef ecosystems is due to the special conditions needed for coral growth. Water temperatures should not be below 17.5 °C (the ideal temperature is 22-27 °C ) [2] – this explains why the Great Barrier Reef has not spread southward beyond the Tropic of Capricorn. The water in which corals grow must have a certain salinity, so the reef ends off the coast of New Guinea, where the Fly River carries large amounts of fresh water into the ocean.

Hard corals act as reef-forming corals in the Great Barrier Reef, and the reef structure is determined by the structure of their limestone skeletons. Typical types of hard corals include mushroom corals, brain corals, and so-called “deer antlers.”

Features

Underwater reefs are clearly visible from the helicopter. For the formation of coral reefs requires shallow depth, in addition, the water must be warm all year round.

The main part of the reef consists of over 2,900 individual reefs ranging in size from 0.01 km² to 100 sq km, which are surrounded by nearly 540 barriers forming more than 600 coastal islands, including 250 continental islands [2] .

A lagoon extends between the BBR and the coast. This area of shoals rarely exceeds 100 m depth, it is covered by a muddy layer protected by coastal reefs. On the sea side the slopes of the reef steeply drop thousands of meters deep into the sea. The barrier in this area is subject to the influence of waves and winds.

Coral growth is fastest here, while in places where waves and temperature reach extreme heights, reefs lose the most building material. Much of the free material is woven into the reefs and forms new rocks, so that the reef undergoes continual, alternating processes of destruction and subsequent restoration.

Biocoenosis

Blue Linckia starfish.JPG

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest ecosystem, as it is a colony of coral polyps. The development of this ecosystem depends on conditions in the shallow, sunlight-rich waters off the coast. Above the surface are coral islands, formed over millions of years from the remains of coral polyps.

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More than 400 species of coral live here [2]. Most of these corals are hard corals, such as mushroom corals, brazen corals, and deer antlers. The coloration of these corals can range from red to dark yellow. There are soft corals, which have no limestone skeleton, instead, their tissues are small, hard crystal structures, called sclerites. Widely distributed gorgonarians (Gorgonacea), which in addition to sclerites, also have a secondary skeleton of hard and flexible substance – gorgonina. Most gorgonarians of the Great Barrier Reef are brightly colored, which is due to the presence of pigments and tiny sclerites in their tissues. The most common colors are yellow, various shades of red, from orange to brown, sometimes white, lilac and purple. The gorgonarians also include the so-called “black corals”, usually found at depths of more than 20 meters. They have long been used as ornaments. The main enemies of corals on the barrier reef is the starfish ( Acanthaster planci ).

The Great Barrier Reef is home to about 1,500 species of marine fish [1]. The number of mass species of true reef fish, which are maximally adapted to life in this ecosystem, is about 500. It is home to the largest fish on earth – the whale shark, many species of parrot fish, caddisfish, butterfly fish, moray eels, and many others.

The waters around the reef are home to several species of whales (minke whale, humpback whale) as well as many dolphins, including killer whales. The waters around the reef are a breeding area for humpback whales, which can often be seen here from June through August.

The South Reef Islands are a breeding ground for sea turtles. Six of the reef’s seven species are found in its waters, all of which are endangered. There are also a huge number of crustaceans: crabs, shrimp, lobsters, and lobsters. Even a small reef provides shelter for about a hundred different species of shrimp and crabs. The reef is also full of mollusks: charonia newt, bivalve clams, and octopus and squid. You can also find here and deadly to humans blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena), whose size does not exceed 15 cm.

In addition to all kinds of sea creatures, the Great Barrier Reef provides shelter for more than 240 species of birds [2]. The continental islands are nesting grounds for huge colonies of birds, where petrels, phaetons, frigates, and various species of terns, including the pink tern, flock. White-bellied Sea Eagle and Osprey are also found on the reef. Some birds prefer to nest on certain islands.

At the same time, only about 40 plant species are found on the islands [2] .

The history of exploration

Humans began using the coral islands of the Great Barrier Reef about 40,000 years ago, after indigenous ancestors arrived in Australia. The first settlers were either named James Cook or later named after him. Continuing north Cook discovered a navigable passage near Lizard Island and was able to sail out to open sea. But many ships attempting to repeat this route were less fortunate. Shipwrecks became common after the first Australian colonists and explorers began to use the waters between the reef and the Grand Lagoon mainland to reach the Torres Strait, which provided routes to the major trading cities of India and China as well as the shortest route from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. There was even soon a debate among sailors as to which route was safer: an outward route through the Coral Sea with passage through the reef or an inland route between shore and reef. In 1815 Charles Jeffreys became the first man to sail a ship along the entire Barrier Reef from the land side. But it wasn’t until the 1840s, after much of the Great Barrier Reef had been explored and mapped in detail, that this route became safer. In the 19th century, scientists began a detailed study of the reef. At the same time business people arrived here hoping to realize their commercial potential. By the end of the 19th century pearls and trepangs from the Great Barrier Reef were being exported to London, Singapore and Hong Kong.

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Tourism

Today, the opportunity to see the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef with their own eyes attracts people from all over the world. There are numerous pleasure boats with special viewing windows cruising over the reef.

Giant clam with diver.jpg

Today the entire Great Barrier Reef is declared a marine park and in 1981 it was included in the list of UNESCO “World Heritage”. The entire water area and islands are now divided into six accessibility zones. The most strictly controlled zone is protected for scientific research. The most accessible is the general-use zone, where trawling, shipping and other moderate exploitation of natural resources, such as tourism, coral sales, etc., are allowed.

However, the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem is so fragile that all mining, oil and gas extraction, and commercial scuba diving, with or without scuba, are prohibited along its entire length.

Tourists may visit only certain specially selected islands. The price of the trip depends on the level of comfort provided. Lizard and Hayman Islands, for example, are equivalent to five-star hotels and a trip to them costs a lot of money, while on Whitesundays and North Mall Islands you can camp in a designated area for a small fee. Once tourists arrive on the islands, they must follow strict rules. Underwater, tourists are not allowed to touch the reefs, and park rangers explain to visitors how to enjoy scuba diving without harming the environment. Since only a few islands on the Great Reef are inhabited, it is difficult to provide accommodations for the increasing flow of tourists.

Threatening factors

Tropical storms do a lot of damage to the delicate balance of coral reefs. Other natural factors cause just as much damage, including periodic outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish feeding on coral polyps. In the early 1980s, these predators caused severe devastation on the Great Barrier Reef.

These days, coral reefs suffer the most from human activities. Mass tourism also poses a danger. With the development of tourist infrastructure, coastal sea waters inevitably become polluted.

Global warming brings another threat to the existence of reefs – bleaching. This is one of the most widespread and poorly understood problems of coral reefs. As water gets even one degree warmer than normal, the algae in the polyps die. Damaged corals expel zooxanthellae (symbiotic algae), which give them a bright coloration. This results in whitish patches on the colonies. These areas, however, are not completely devoid of algae. In some cases, partial recovery or the appearance of new zooxanthellae species is possible. It has been found, however, that discolored colonies do not grow and are more easily destroyed by wave activity [1] .

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