The honor of being the world’s largest coral reef system goes to The Great Barrier Reef. Chances are that you’ve heard about it once or twice. It’s a complex ecosystem that houses an amazing variety of wildlife, fish, and other sea creatures. If you’ve look for an amazing snorkeling experience, this is it.
If you want to take a gander at the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll have to head to Queensland, Australia where you can find the reef just off the coast. It’s been called one of the seven natural wonders of the world. CNN’s compiled list also included: The Grand Canyon, Rio de Janeiro harbor, Mount Everest, The Northern Lights, Parícutin volcano and Victoria Falls. The Great Barrier Reef has also been included on other lists including the list of ‘Seven Wonders of the Underwater World’.
The reef is an amazing sight and even if you’re not heading to Australia soon, we think it’s a living structure that’s worth talking about. There’s more to the Great Barrier Reef than what meets the eye. We bet there’s more to it than you think! Here are 20 things we think you should know about the beautiful Great Barrier Reef.
20. It’s Not All Covered In Coral
That’s right. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just one big hunk of coral. For those of you who haven’t seen the reef in person and had the pleasure of diving to explore its vastness, you should know that the picture you have in mind may not be one hundred percent correct. The reef is actually made up of sections, some of the coral lays above water, some underneath. There are actually 3000 individual reefs that make up the amazing landmark. The reef is home to tons of marine wildlife and is a super popular tourist destination. It’s probably high up on a lot of people’s bucket lists of destinations they want to visit before they die.
19. It’s Super Old
The Great Barrier Reef is very very old. It’s kind of sad that it’s been around for so long and it’s only now stating to die because of human meddling. The living corals that are alive today are not the oldest part of the Great Barrier reef. The reef itself was formed from the waste of previously living marine life. The reef that’s visible today is about 8000 years old but it grew on top of structures that are even older. It’s amazing to think that such a natural structure has been around for so long. We can only hope that it will continue to be around for thousands of years to come.
18. The Reef Is Partially Owned By Indigenous Australians
This is indeed true. The Great Barrier Reef is partially owned by Indigenous Australian groups. Some specific groups of Indigenous Australians are considered by the Australian government to be “traditional owners” of the reef. What does this mean exactly? It means that they are compensated by the government for its use of the Great Barrier Reef. Groups situated along the coast have an important connection with the reef. It holds spiritual, cultural and economic significance for these Indigenous groups. The reef is an important part of their history. They will continue to be connected to the reef as long as it’s still standing.
17. It’s Also Used By The Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Another group of “traditional owners” of the Great Barrier Reef is the Torres Strait Islander People. The groups living in the Torres Strait are not to be confused with Aboriginal Australians, who live on the mainland of Australia. The flag pictured is the Torres Strait Islands flag. It’s recognized as an official flag of Australia. The white center portion represents a headdress. The white star represents peace and the five points recall the five main islands that make up the Torres Strait islands. The star is also important for the Torres Strait Islanders because it represents the importance of stars in navigating the seas.
16. It’s a World Heritage Site
The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site. World Heritage Areas are selected for their cultural or scientific significance. The Great Barrier reef was selected because of its wide variety of species, its position as the largest coral reef, and its aesthetic properties. It was named a World Heritage Site in 1981. In a 2016 article from The Guardian, it was said that the UN World Heritage Committee was considering re-categorizing the reef as endangered. It seems almost an inevitable part of the future, since Australia seems to be uninterested in protecting the glorious natural landmark. We find it puzzling considering the Great Barrier Reef brings in heaps of tourists.
15. It’s Larger Than A Lot Of Countries
Believe it or not, the Great Barrier Reef is actually larger than many countries in the world. The reef itself is the largest (and longest) of its kind worldwide. It’s more than 1200 miles long and takes up an area of over 130,000 square miles. That’s pretty huge! It’s a wonder fish and other marine life don’t get lost in the massive reef. It’s amazing to think that this underwater coral reef spans an area bigger than some countries. It’s even hard to visualize so let us help you. Picture this, the Great Barrier Reef is bigger than the UK, Switzerland and Holland put together. Crazy.
14. It Can Be Seen From Space
Yep. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outerspace. It’s that big. There’s a neat photo of the reef from space that was captured by NASA. It’s on their website. It was taken by MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer) in the summer of 2000. NASA has also studied the reef and others like it, in order to take stock of the damage being done to this type of natural structure. Because the reef covers such a large area, it’s a bit difficult to study it. It’s also difficult to size up the damage being done to the reef. But NASA’s CORAL mission aims to study the reef to help provide a better idea of what exactly is happening to it.
13. It’s The Home Of A Sunken Ship Called The SS Yongalia
What’s cooler than a mysterious sunken ship? Maybe nothing. The SS Yongala was forever relegated to the bottom of the ocean when it was pulled under during a cyclone event in 1911. It’s not really known exactly what happened to the SS Yongala. We do know that 122 people were lost the day it sank. The wreck wasn’t discovered until 1958. The shipwreck is a popular tourist destination and scuba diving spot. The ship has become home to tons of marine wildlife which makes it the perfect spot to check out if you’re in Australia and looking to head underwater.
12. Part Of The Reef Has Been Moved Before
Yep. In 2008, a section of the Great Barrier Reef was transported to Dubai. The reef was in the same area as construction and moving it seemed like a good idea. The move had a price tag of nearly $10 million. Yikes. Normally, moving such a structure would cause irreparable damage and kill off a portion of the coral. Fortunately, this didn’t happen with the part of the reef moved to Dubai. In fact, it helped to keep the reef alive and even caused it to flourish. The reef grew by 20 percent in the following five years. Pretty impressive!
11. You Can View The Reef From Home
For many of us, Australia is a far cry from home. The flight there is long and expensive. Many of us will never get to swim in the ocean and see the Great Barrier Reef in person. It kind of bums us out. But don’t worry! Thanks to The Ocean Agency, you can explore the reef from the comfort of your own home. The images are captured using an underwater scooter equipped with a camera. Like Google Street View but in the ocean. So even if you’re afraid of the water and couldn’t ever fathom putting on a scuba suit, you’re able to take a dive from your office chair and see the reef up close and personal.
10. It’s Biodiverse AF
You might already know that biodiversity is important. So what exactly is biodiversity? In simple terms, it’s the variety of species and life that a ecosystem supports. The Great Barrier Reef definitely supports a great variety of life. The reef is home to nearly 9,000 species and marine wildlife. In addition, many different types of plankton and fungi also call the reef home. The different species living in the Great Barrier Reef all work together to support the ecosystem. It’s basically a fairytale. As we saw earlier with the Crown of Thorns Starfish, though, problems can arise when things go out of whack.
9. Sex On The Reef Is A Real Thing And Not What You Think
Yeah, it sounds like a cool new drink being served at bars. Maybe they serve a ‘sex on the reef’ at bars near the Great Barrier Reef. If we ran an oceanside bar in Australia, that’s what we’d call our signature drink. But, no, it’s not an alcoholic beverage. It’s not a weird sex thing either. Well…kind of. It refers to the spawning season which occurs every year from October to December. Corals in the Great Barrier Reef release eggs and sperm en masse for what has been called ‘the biggest orgy in the world’. Apparently, it looks like a snowstorm underwater. A kinky, underwater snowstorm.
8. The Reef Has Experienced Massive Damage Thanks To Humans
Yeah. We humans seem to consistently ruin the party wherever we go. We’ve managed to hurt the Great Barrier Reef as well. So what kind of threats does the reef face from humans? Shipping accidents can cause problems on the reef. It’s a hugely popular tourist destination and large liners that pass through. If there are accidents, debris can cause problems and substances used to preserve boats leech into the water and pollute the area. There’s also the possibility of oil spills in the area, which has obvious consequences. The large presence of tourist also poses a threat to the reef.
7. But Also This Thorny Creature
But humans aren’t the only ones messing things up for the Great Barrier Reef. The Crown of Thorns Starfish has also become a serious threat to the reef. It’s one of the worst threats and it actually lives in the Great Barrier reef. Why is it so bad? It manages to survive by eating coral polyps. Nom nom nom. An outbreak of 30 or more starfish in one area can mark disaster. The reason these prickly creatures have spawned so readily is because predator numbers have been reduced. Some scientists think that the large number of these creatures is due to the increase in algae which is caused by runoff from agricultural operations. Basically, humans still ruining the party.
6. Heavy Fines Don’t Seem To Deter Fishermen
Despite the threat of massive fines, fishermen don’t seem to mind the risk of fishing in certain areas of the Great Barrier Reef. In late 2016, commercial fishermen were fined a combined $18,000 for using small fishing boats in an off limits area of the Great Barrier Reef. The small boats are required to be attached to larger “mother ships” when in these off limit areas. The laws are in place to protect the Great Barrier Reef from overfishing and other types of human meddling. It seems the rewards merit the risk in this situation. The men who were fined, were fishing in the area because they were dealing with financial strain. Oops.
5. Chinese Organized Crime Rings & Pirates Love The Reef
We’re pretty sure this would make a great Hollywood film. Chinese organized crime ring sets up HQ in the Great Barrier Reef. Okay, so that’s not exactly what’s going on, but we’d love to see Jackie Chan back at it with Chris Tucker. This time, in Australia protecting nature’s treasure. For real, though. Sea pirates around the Great Barrier reef are causing problems. They’re supported by Chinese organized crime and they’re plundering the reef’s fish supply. The foreign pirates raid the reef and fish illegally for various species that make a pretty penny on the Chinese market. Really, really, uncool.
4. It’s Home To The Sea Cucumber
One of the species that’s in high demand in China and is being acquired by Chinese-mafia backed pirates is the sea cucumber. The ugly looking cucumber-esque sea creature fetches up to $30 a kilogram. It’s highly sought after in China for use in Chinese cooking. FYI, this tubular creature is not a vegetable. They’re echinoderms so they’re related to starfish. If a sea cucumber feels threatened it can expel its guts from its butt. To confuse the enemy, maybe? More likely to horrify them. Don’t worry, though. Their internal organs are capable of regenerating. So basically, these guys are magic. No wonder the Chinese mafia is hiring pirates to fish these suckers to extinction in the Great Barrier Reef.
3. It’s Been At The Centre Of A Murder
If you’re into True Crime, you’ve no doubt heard about the death of Tina Watson. Tina died in 2003 while on her honeymoon with her new husband Gabe Watson. The two were on a dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, when a person dies the authorities always look to their significant other as the suspect. There still hot debate regarding Tina’s death. Many believe her husband left her to die on the ocean floor. Others think it was simply a tragic accident. We’re not quite sure why people kill their new spouses. Seems a bit early to be tired of the whole ‘being married’ thing.
2. Heat Is Killing The Great Barrier Reef
Remember when we talked about how humans are helping to kill the Great Barrier Reef? Well heat is also contributing to the slow death of the reef. Global warming is a significant factor in coral bleaching. Of course, we’re technically at fault for the planet’s warming so it’s our fault again. Hotter water temps have caused several bleaching events over the last 20 years. In 2016, a huge portion of the Great Barrier reef experienced bleaching. There’s no way to actually protect the reefs from the water temperature changes. Global warming needs to be addressed in a serious manner. We’re a bit skeptical about how the reef will fare over the next few decades.
1. The Reef Has An Obituary
You know the beautiful, majestic, and glorious natural phenomenon we call the Great Barrier Reef? Remember how we’ve been describing how badly it’s been damaged, how we’re damaging it, and how global warming is seriously screwing with the reef system? Yeah, well, last year an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef went viral. An article, that declared the reef was dead and gone, made the rounds on the Internet. The obituary that made the rounds isn’t entirely correct, though. The reef is not dead and beyond help. It’s badly damaged but losing hope is not the answer. Hopefully these Great Barrier Reef’s tidbits have ignited an interest in you and others that can help bring attention to this important World Heritage Site.
Interested in doing your part to make sure the Great Barrier Reef isn’t gone forever? Find out what you can do to help protect coral reefs.
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