Home to the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2,000 km in the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Queensland in Australia. In addition to nearly 3,000 individual reefs in different shapes and sizes, the Reef comprises several hundred islands – making it a biodiversity hotspot that nurtures an astonishing variety of plants and animals. The Reef houses more than 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 5,000 types of molluscs, and 200 species of birds. In 1981, it was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List for its “outstanding natural universal values”, and till now has been the world’s largest World Heritage Area.
However, the Reef, which continues to hold people from across the world in awe and generates one billion Australian dollars annually, is much threatened. Over the last few decades, global warming has resulted in coral bleaching (which may or may not result in coral mortality). Most recently, an aerial survey revealed that back-to-back unprecedented coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017 has affected nearly two-thirds of the corals, giving the damaged ones little chance to recover. In addition to these, other factors such as industrialistation, over fishing and lack of very strict regulation in safeguardiong the region have all endangered the Reef. Though several measures have been considered and initiated for its protection, there’s still much to be done in very little time if the Reef can still be around for generations to come.
WHY IS IT UNIQUE?
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and collectively the biggest living creature on our planet. It actually spreads across an area of more than three lakh sq.km. – making it larger than some of the countries! Is it any wonder then that the Reef is the only living creature that can be seen from space?
Thanks to the extraordinary diversity in terms of habitats and species, the Reef is one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world. It is home to a staggering number of marine creatures. As if a fitting underwater competitor to Africa’s Big Five, the Reef houses the Great Eight – clownfish, sharks, manta rays, Maori wrasse, potato cod, giant clams, turtles and whales. The Reef is considered to be one of the best places to spot sea turtles since six of the seven sea turtle species of the world are found here. The Reef also holds scientific significance for being the habitat of the much threatened dugong (sea cow).
DID YOU KNOW?
IN DANGER OR NOT:
Last year, UNESCO released its “List of World Heritage in Danger” comprising 55 entries, including several natural wonders. Though this list did not include the Great Barrier Reef, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee expressed its concern about the Reef’s future. Under global criticism for not doing enough to protect the Reef, the Australian government received the news with much relief, termed it a “big win” and deemed the decision a support for its conservation efforts. Meanwhile, the decision to leave out the Reef from the list dismayed and perplexed several conservationists, including many who pointed to the Australian government neither cutting fossil fuels subsidy nor banning new coal mines.
One of the most destructive sea creatures of the region is the crown-of-thorns starfish, a corallivore that munches its way through the coral, destroying them on a large scale. This fish is native to the Reef, but their numbers can increase to leave behind devastation. In 2017, thousands of these star fish were discovered on Swain Reefs – located on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef – and volunteer divers are said to have culled several thousands of them in an operation that lasted more than a week.
As if a fitting underwater competitor to Africa’s Big Five, the Reef houses the Great Eight – clownfish, sharks, manta rays, Maori wrasse, potato cod, giant clams, turtles and whales.
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