Reef crest dominated by robust branching corals and coralline algae, Great Barrief Reef © WWF / James Morgan

Reef crest dominated by robust branching corals and coralline algae, Great Barrief Reef © WWF / James Morgan

Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's seven natural wonders, it is a prized World Heritage Area, the largest reef system and the biggest living structure on the planet. It sprawls over a jaw-dropping 344,400 square kilometres – an area so large that it can be seen from space.


The Reef is composed of 3,000 individual reef systems, 600 tropical islands and about 300 coral cays. This complex maze of habitats provides refuge for an astounding variety of marine plants and animals – from ancient sea turtles, reef fish and 134 species of sharks and rays, to 400 different hard and soft corals and a plethora of seaweeds.


As one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, the Reef has a global reputation for its turquoise waters, kaleidoscopic corals and abundant life.


Together with the fishing industry, tourism reels in about $6 billion annually and supports some 69,000 Australian jobs. But the Reef is far more than an economic resource. It is a network of marine sanctuaries of unparalleled ecological importance – a place where beauty transcends business, where nature reigns supreme. How much greater can you get?

What We're doing

 WWF-Australia's goal is to halt and reverse the decline of species and ecosystem health in the Great Barrier Reef, while reducing the impact of climate change.

 

Why it matters 

Australians, indeed the whole world, loves the Great Barrier Reef and its breathtaking wildlife. Our Traditional Owners have a profound spiritual connection with the Reef and few can dive or snorkel in its clear waters without being moved.


In biological terms, the Reef is home to a treasure trove of plants and animals, many of them as yet unknown to science.


But all of this is at grave risk. The Reef is highly vulnerable. In the past three decades, it has lost half its coral cover, pollution has caused deadly starfish outbreaks, and global warming has produced horrific coral bleaching. Coastal development also looms as a major threat. That’s why we need to act quickly and fight for the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef.


Did you know?

Some of the Reef's inhabitants, such as turtles and crocodiles, have been around since prehistoric times and have changed little over the millennia.


The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created in 1975 through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. The Park itself extends south from the northern tip of Queensland, in north-eastern Australia, to just north of Bundaberg. It ranges between 60 and 250 kilometres in width and has an average depth of 35 metres in its inshore waters. On the outer reefs, continental slopes extend to depths of more than 2,000 metres. 

Variety of fish swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia © Troy Mayne

Threats

  • Coral bleaching
  • Farm pollution
  • Governance
  • Industrialisation
  • Fishing

  • Coral bleaching
    Coral bleaching is the result of global warming caused by the mining and burning of fossil fuels like coal. Global warming is heating our oceans, and if the water stays too hot for too long, corals bleach and die.

    Farm pollution
    Farm pollution is one of the key drivers of the Reef’s decline. It smothers corals and seagrass beds and denies them sunlight, drives crown of thorn starfish outbreaks, and makes coral more vulnerable to bleaching. Nitrogen run-off from farms can also lead to algal blooms, which starfish larvae feed on, promoting population explosions.

    Governance
    Sadly, the scale and number of problems the Reef now faces have outgrown the capacity of the institutions and systems put in place a generation ago to protect it. The Reef needs a stronger champion to defend it from industrialisation, overfishing and a multitude of other threats.

    Industrialisation
    There are plans to expand several ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline. Port expansion leads to dredging of the seafloor, increased shipping traffic, and a range of other impacts on the delicate coastal and marine environment of this World Heritage Area.

    Fishing
    Poor management of commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing is increasing the threats to many of Queensland’s threatened species including dugongs, turtles and inshore dolphins. Fisheries management needs to be supported by investment into expanded data collection and compliance programs.

    Recommended Reading

    • bg-blue (Oceans)

    © Sian Breen / WWF-Aus

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