The Great Barrier Reef is world famous due to its biodiversity and size. Travelers come from all over the world just to visit this amazing ecosystem and discover all its wanders. But how much do you really know about the reef??
In this blog we summarize the most important things you should know about the Great Barrier Reef before you come.
No one really knows!!
All sources agree that the reef is Great, but how big is it?
This question has always been a subject of debate, because despite knowing that it starts in Papa New Guinea and ends in Bundaberg, there is not a clear answer. As the reef is composed of living organisms, it changes constantly (some corals growing and some others dying). Therefore, you will find different dimensions from different sources, but most agree that it is between 2,000 km - 2,600 km.
What we can agree on, is that it’s the largest living organism in the planet and the only one that can be seen from out of space!
This is not an easy question to answer either.
Some corals have been known to grow in the coast of Australia as far back as 24 million years ago, but they are of another era and are not considered part of the reef that we enjoy today.
The Great Barrier Reef as we know it, has grown on top of older reef structures, volcanos and mountains (including the Great Dividing Range). AIMS and GBRMPA agree that the end of the last ice age (Glacial Maximum) marked the start of the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today around 20,000 years ago.
As the last ice age ended, the sea level started to rise and the temperatures with it. This shift in the environment created the perfect conditions for coral to thrive.
Every reef starts with a tiny animal called a polyp. Polyps are in the same phylum as jellyfish and anemones: cnidarians. They have stinging tentacles and a mouth, same as jellyfish, but they need a solid structure to attach themselves to, and only then, they can start their growth process. Once they find a suitable home they start cloning themselves and growing their colony!
This is a very common question we receive on the boat and the answer is not simple.
Anyone that has been following the world news over the past few years is aware that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. These changes in the world climate are affecting the corals all over the globe.
These tiny animals (polyps) rely on a very special symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic micro alge called zooxanthellae. This relationship is threatened when the temperatures are too high, causing bleaching (if you want to know more about this read this blog).
The mass bleaching events in the summer of 2016 and 2017 had damaging effects on the Great Barrier Reef.
Mass bleaching events have killed lots of corals all over the globe, but the Great Barrier Reef is fighting back. With the support of scientific research and environmental groups Australia, is leading the fight for reef conservation and regeneration.
The reef as we used to know it (in pre-industrial conditions), is not going to come back unless big changes are made.
When scientist came to the GBR a few decades ago, they considered it to be an infinite resource, they conceived it almost impossible for the reef to die; it was just too vast and too biodiverse.
John (Charlie) Veron “the grandfather of coral” has been immersed in this underwater paradise since he was very young, and he believes that the coral can recover if we give it the chance to do it. This includes reducing CO2 emissions, plastic pollution, deforestation, amongst many other activities that are harming our environment. But even if we follow these guidelines and improve all of these areas, the reef needs help.
Scientist like Veron and a lot of other environmental enthusiast have started to get more involved in Charities and initiatives to help the reef through science, education and communication. A great example is GBR Legacy (check out their last expedition here).