The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's greatest natural treasures. Not only someone everyone should see while passing through Australia - it's something that everyone should go to Australia to see as the main attraction. The Great Barrier Reef is by far the world's largest coral reef system and is located off the Queensland coast in north-eastern Australia in the Coral Sea.

The Great Barrier Reef is as colorful as it is rich in marine life. It is the home of many endangered or vulnerable species (some of whom are endemic to the reef). It is home to 6 of the world's 7 species of sea turtles. The contrast between the reef and visiting Ayer's Rock couldn't be greater.

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About The Great Barrier Reef

  • Area Covered: 344,400 Sq Km or 133,000 Sq Miles
  • Length: 2,300 Km or 1,400 Miles
  • Number of Individual Reefs: 2,900
  • Number Of Islands: 900

While the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from outer space (it might just be made out with a very keen eye from lower earth orbit), the Great Barrier Reef is readily visible from outer space. The reef is built from billions of tiny coral polyps creating an ecosystem that supports a dizzying array of life. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1981 and much of it is protected by the large Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Today the Great Barrier Reef is under threat from climate change that is leading to mass coral bleaching. Much of the coral cover has been lost over the last few decades.

Marine Life of The Reef

The Great Barrier Reef alone makes up around 10% of all the world's coral reef ecosystems. It is one of the most complex natural systems on Earth with a range of ecological habitats and a vast array of species calling it home - including many kinds of turtles and crocodiles.

  • Number Of Coral: 600 Types Of Hard And Soft Corals
  • Jellyfish: Over 100 Species of Jellyfish
  • Mollusks: 3,000 Varieties of Mollusks
  • Fish: 1,625 Types of Fish
  • Sharks And Rays: 133 Kinds of Sharks And Rays
  • Whales And Dolphins: Over 30 Species of Whales And Dolphins
  • Worms: 500 Species of Sea Worms
  • Sea Snakes: 14 Breeding Species of Sea Snakes (17 Species in Total)
  • Birds: 215 Species of Birds

If all that marine wildlife wasn't enough, it also has six of the world's seven species of marine turtle and one of the world's most important dugong populations. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef is home to around 25% of all known marine species. The whales include humpback whales and the dwarf minke whale. One of the stunning species of dolphin is the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.

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Visiting The Great Barrier Reef

Today the Great Barrier Reef is a great location for diving. The underwater world is just beyond imagination. Every year millions of visitors from around the world flock to Cairns (the gateway city) to dive the reef and see it for themselves. Here one can sit back and relax on the sunny and golden sandy beaches lining the coasts, go fishing, and of course one must dive the reef.

Tours and activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles, and cruise ship tours all from the boats on the sea. Alternatively, get a bird's eye view from above with an aircraft or helicopter tour.

As stated above there are 30 species of dolphins and whales frequenting the reef. Naturally, there are whale watching tours and swimming with the dolphin's tours as well.

Commercial activity in the Great Barrier Reef Maine Park is all regulated and in 2006 there were 820 operators and 1,500 vessels and aircraft that were permitted to operate within the park.

Accommodation

There is a range of accommodation options both on the mainland and on islands out to sea. Many of the hotels are only a short walk from the beach and are designed with an emphasis on eco-tourism.

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Accommodation options span the full spectrum with hostels through to romantic getaways. For those with the budget consider a sophisticated resort or a secluded luxury lodge or a family-focused island escape. For those wishing to stay on an island, here are some of the resort options:

  • Bedarra Island Resort
  • Brampton Island Resort
  • Daydream Island Resort
  • Dunk Island Resort
  • Hamilton Island’s Resorts
  • Hayman Island Resort
  • Heron Island Resort
  • Lizard Island Resort
  • Magnetic Island Hotels
  • Whitsundays Hotels

For more information about accommodation on or near the reef see here for the Great Barrier Reef website. Around 27 islands on the reef support resorts - two of the more significant ones are Green Island and Lady Elliot Island. While the reef can be accessed from other cities, the main gateway to the reef is the northern Queensland city of Cairns (another gateway is The Whitsundays).

Next: Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Australia's Northernmost Point