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Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is undisputed as one of the world’s most important natural assets. 

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,600 kilometres (1,616 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (132,974 sq mi).This unique and diverse marine ecosystem comprises about: 

•2900 reefs

 •600 continental islands

•300 coral cays. 

Geographical  LocationThe reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australiafrom just south of the Tropic of Capricorn to the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea 24°30'N-10°41'S, 145°00'-154°00'E.

 Climate The Great Barrier Reef has a tropical climate influenced primarily by two features of the southern hemisphere circulation: the equatorial low pressure zone during the summer months and the sub-tropical high pressure zone during the winter months. As the area lies between the continental land mass of Australia and the open ocean of the South Pacific, its climate is also strongly influenced by both the adjacent land mass and oceanic effects. Wind patterns are dominated for the greater part of the year by the south-east trades. During January to March, north-westerlies prevail in the north of the area under the influence of the inter-tropical monsoonal front. The rainfall is seasonally and geographically variable. The wettest period is summer, under the influence of the monsoon and irregular tropical cyclones and depressions. Heavy rain may occur in the south during winter. Air temperatures vary betweenan average maximum of approximately 30°C in January and 23°C in July and an average minimum of approximately 24°C in January and 18°C in July. Mean water surface temperature is at a maximum during February and at a minimum during July

Wildlife There are over 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusc and 242 species of bird within the park, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms and crustaceans. The site includes major feeding grounds for dugongDugong dugon. Several cetaceans are present, including humpback whale Megaptera novaengliae , minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata and killer whale Orcinus orca. Dolphins include bottle nose Tursiops truncatus, Irrawaddy Orcaella brevirotris  and Indo-Pacific humpback Sousa chinensis. Offshore, spinner dolphin Stennella longirostris is also occasionally seen. There are nesting grounds of world significance for green turtle Chelonia mydas  and loggerhead Caretta caretta , and habitat for four other species of marine turtle.

Australia has the largest area of coral reefs (purple) of any nation. (Inset) Acropora corals in Ningaloo Reef

Credit: Australia Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

Bigger than the entire area of Italy, it is probably the best known marine protected area in the world. The Great Barrier Reef's great diversity reflects the maturity of the ecosystem, which has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. It is the world's most extensive coral reef system and is one of the world's richest areas in terms of faunal diversity.

Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Queensland coastal areas of Proserpine and Mackay

Credit: NASA

The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms.

River Plumes Threaten Great Barrier Reef

NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center

The Great Barrier Reef could soon be another casualty of climate change

Carbon dioxide is increasing the acidity of the oceans. Ocean acidity is increasing at a much faster pace according to marine scientists meeting in Australia's capital, Canberra, at the Coral Reef Futures 07 Forum, October 18-19, 2007. "It appears this acidification is now taking place over decades, rather than centuries as originally predicted. It is happening even faster in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean than in the tropics. It is starting to look like a very serious issue." said Professor Malcolm McCulloch of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and the Australian National University.

 Over time, the acidic water dissolves the shells of coral and marine life. The Barrier Reef is losing one to two percent of coral each year and all of the reef’s coral could be gone in 40 years. The environmental problem is not just restricted to Australia, almost half of the world’s reefs are under threat, with 44 percent of the world’s reefs already severely degraded.



Reef Relief founders Craig and DeeVon Quirolo retired from the grassroots organization last July, only to begin an effort to provide an online resource on coral reefs. Their new website provides all the award-winning educational tools, grassroots strategies, project reports and images of coral reefs assembled during their work over the past 23 years in the Florida Keys and throughout the Caribbean protecting coral reefs. You can find it at www.reefrelieffounders.com


credit: NOAA, NASA, Reef Check, UNEP, Reef Relief, Australian Government, University of Texas, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Coral Reef Alliance