Considered one of the wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef is a rich tapestry of coral reefs, islands and cays, which stretches for more than 2,300 kilometres from Lady Elliot Island off Bundaberg to beyond Cape York at the tip of north-eastern Australia. More than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional clans share a relationship with this landscape, whose connection can be traced back more than 50,000 years. The Far North regions around Cape York and Torres Strait have the strongest Indigenous cultural links.
The Reef is an enormous, ancient, living organism, composed of live coral gardens growing on inert coral dating back as much as 20 million years. Many generations of coral have built themselves into great walls of stone covered in a diverse range of living coral, algae and an extraordinary array of thousands of species of plants, seal life and animals. Described as the tropical rainforest of the ocean, this intricate living environment of extraordinary marine diversity is the world’s largest coral reef system, so large that it can be seen from space.
The coral rock that forms the base for the modern reef is between 20m and 500m thick in places, with most of it about two million years old – although in some northern parts, the reef’s foundations date back more than 18 million years.
A haven for diving and snorkelling, the Reef is home to over 1,600 species of fish, 400 species of hard coral and 150 species of soft coral that form a spectacular underwater world. Dolphins, rays, seahorses, sharks, sea snakes, shellfish and birds also call the Reef home. The Great Barrier Reef also contains significant nesting grounds for six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles, all of which are regarded as endangered. During nesting season these fascinating animals lay their eggs on many reef islands and some parts of the coast.
The warm waters of the Reef are also a whale breeding area. Between August and November every year Humpback whales make their way up the coast from the Antarctic to give birth to their young, and both Antarctic and Dwarf Minke whales are also found in Great Barrier Reef waters. Visitors can join one of the whale watching cruises for an experience of a lifetime.
The Great Barrier Reef is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and is widely recognised as one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world. In 1981 it was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1981 as an outstanding example of a reef system, representing the major stages in the earth’s evolutionary history; as well as for its important biological diversity.
Travel article courtesy of Cruise Select, Bedford’s leading Cruise Experts www.cruiseselect.co.uk