Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland.
The Great Barrier Reef has long been known to and used by the Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and is an important part of local groups' cultures and spirituality. The reef is a very popular destination for tourists, especially in the Whitsunday Islands and Cairns regions. Tourism is an important economic activity for the region, generating over AUD$3 billion per year. In November 2014, Google launched Google Underwater Street View in 3D of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef supports an extraordinary diversity of life, including many vulnerable or endangered species, some of which may be endemic to the reef system.
Six species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed: the green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, flatback turtle, and the olive ridley. The green sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef have two genetically distinct populations, one in the northern part of the reef and the other in the southern part.
Climate change, pollution, crown-of-thorns starfish and fishing are the primary threats to the health of this reef system. Other threats include shipping accidents, oil spills, and tropical cyclones. Skeletal Eroding Band, a disease of bony corals caused by the protozoan Halofolliculina corallasia, affects 31 coral species. According to a 2012 study by the National Academy of Science, since 1985, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals with two-thirds of the loss occurring from 1998 due to the factors listed before.
In March 2015, the Australian and Queensland's governments formed a plan for the protection and preservation of the reef's universal heritage until 2050. This 35 years plan, titled "Reef 2050 Plan" is a document proposing possible measures for the long-term management of the pollution, climate change and other issues that threaten the life span and value of this global heritage. The plan contains all the elements for measurement and improvements, including; long-term sustainability plan, water quality improvement plan and the investment plan for the protection and preservation of The Reef until 2050.
However, whereas the 2050 plan aims to incorporate protective measures such as improving water quality, reef restoration, killing of predatory starfish, it does not incorporate additional measures to address the root cause the problem namely climate change (which is caused by greenhouse gas emissions). As such, experts doubt on whether it will be enough to save the fragile environment.
*Location: East coast of Queensland, Australia.
*Duration: One day.
*Best time: Summer.