The Great Barrier Reef is a massive living structure and one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Located in the Coral Sea, just off the coast of Queensland in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 1,400 miles, covering an area of 133,000 square miles. It’s comprised of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands – it’s so big that it can be seen from outer space.
The Great Barrier Reef Australia
Geologists have discovered through deep coring techniques that some parts of the reef contain corals that are half a million years old. The current reef is between 6,000 to 8,000 years old although it began to form some 20,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum.
The Great Barrier Reef was established as a national park in 1975 and declared a World Heritage Site in 1981. Part of it is highly protected from fishing and tourism-related activities by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The Barrier Reef itself is made up of billions of colourful tiny living organisms, such as coral, red algae, molluscs, sponges and crustaceans. It contains more than 70 different habitats, which provide a home to thousands of species of marine life, including fish, starfish, turtles, and even sharks.
Great Barrier Reef fish
Over 1,500 fish species can be found on the reef, from small bait fish right through to mighty sharks. Examples of the types of fish you might see are Clownfish (think Finding Nemo); Angelfish; Red Bass; Butterfly Fish; Damselfish; Gobies, and Parrotfish.
Around 160 species of shark inhabit the reef and its waters – thankfully not all of them are the dangerous predators you might envisage. The most common shark species here is the White-tipped Reef Shark.
Great Barrier Reef turtles
There are seven types of marine turtles worldwide, and six of them can be found in Australian waters: the Green Turtle; Loggerhead Turtle; Flatback Turtle; Hawksbill Turtle; Leatherback Turtle, and the Olive Ridley Turtle. The Great Barrier Reef is the perfect place to appreciate these beautiful creatures and see them gliding through the waves.
Other Great Barrier Reef wildlife
The wildlife at the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly diverse. As well as the animals and living organisms described above, the Barrier Reef is home to 215 species of birds with 22 species being seabirds. Around 30 types of marine mammals inhabit the reef’s waters, including dolphins, seals, and whales. You may also find sea snakes and crocodiles too!
Learn more about the reef
There are many educational videos online and fact-based websites where you can learn more about the Great Barrier Reef and its conservation strategies. There are also several organisations (such as Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef) that offer ways to get involved in helping to preserve the reef either through fundraising or volunteering opportunities.
Visit The Great Barrier Reef
If you enjoy swimming, you can see the Great Barrier Reef by snorkelling or scuba diving. If you prefer to enjoy the reef while remaining dry, there are glass-bottomed boat trips or helicopter rides you can take, depending on whereabouts you’re visiting.
The best places to visit the Great Barrier Reef
One of the best places to experience the reef by boat and scenic flight is Cairns. By air, you can see the awe-inspiring views of Green Island, Lizard Island and the Arlington Reef. Cairns is also an excellent departure spot for the many scuba diving and snorkelling excursions that are available. You can take a short boat ride to Fitzroy Island from Cairns, where you’ll not only see the reef but can also do some sea kayaking and hiking too.
From Port Douglas (which is around 40 miles north of Cairns), you can set sail to the Low Isles, a tropical paradise with lush vegetations, white sands, and crystal clear waters. Around 55 acres of reefs surround the Low Isles making it ideal for snorkelling and marvelling at the mesmerising display below its shallow waters.
At Airlie Beach, you can take a trip to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands to view the reef from there. Another great location is Lady Elliot Island, at the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Here, the corals and marine life are unspoiled and utterly spectacular. Go snorkelling, swimming, scuba diving, or take a boat trip for the Great Barrier Reef experience – all aquatic abilities are catered for.
Australia Fly Drive Holidays
If you’re travelling around Australia in a motorhome, the Barrier Reef is a must-see. We’ve put together some fantastic route suggestions for Australia Fly Drive Holidays that include spending time seeing the reef’s underwater wonders.