The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef. Approximately 1,400 miles in length and 133,000 square miles in area, it encompasses nearly a thousand islands and nearly three thousand component reefs. It is one of the most important undersea ecological zones in the world, as well as one of the planet’s most popular destinations for divers. The Great Barrier Reef is largely located inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aborginal inhabitants of coastal Australia discovered the Great Barrier Reef long before the arrival of Europeans and used as a natural resource. The reef was discovered by French explorer Louis de Bougainville in 1768, and Captain James Cook’s ship ran aground on the reef for a brief period two years later. Significant exploration of the reef began in the 1920s. It has largely been a protected site since 1975.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to what could be the most extensive and diverse marine ecosystem on Earth. The reef probably began to grow around twenty thousand years ago. It supports thousands of species of fish, crustaceans, amphibeans and mammals, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles and crocodiles. Over two hundred species of birds nest in and around the reefs.
The Great Barrier Reef is a hugely popular tourism draw in Australia. Despite being a heavily protected area, pollution and climate change are currently putting a severe strain on the reef system, making it necessary to place some restrictions on diving, boating and similar activities. Nevertheless over two million people visit the reef every year, mostly on carefully guided tours. Web: www.gbrmpa.gov.au (official website).