AUSTRALIA’S GREAT BARRIER REEF

A Diver And A Giant Clam On The Great Barrier Reef

This Expanse Of Tropical Coral Reefs Creates The Ultimate Aquatic Wildlife Destination

I have gone scuba diving in the clear waters off Mexico, and have fly fished the teeming coral flats of Belize. But to me—and to many other wildlifers—the ultimate tropical saltwater wildlife destination has always been Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. With a bit of luck, I’ll get there one day.

Coral reefs are highly productive ecosystems that attract and produce an abundance of fish, sea mammals, invertebrates and other marine life—and the Great Barrier Reef is the largest system of interconnected reefs in the world. In all, it encompasses 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands covering an area of 1,600 square miles, or 2,600 square kilometers. It is the largest structure in the world that has been created by living organisms—the tiny coral polyps that build reefs through their growth and death.

Much of the reef network is protected within the boundaries of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the fish and wildlife viewing are well organized and safe, with such sports as scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking providing a means for ecotourists to reach the reefs. Some tour operators even host divers and other ecotourists on comfortable live-aboard boats.

Unfortunately, threats to this huge aquatic ecosystem include global climate change, which causes coral death, or “bleaching,” due to warming ocean temperatures, and declining water quality due to pollution. For now, however—and hopefully forever—the Great Barrier Reef is unrivaled in beauty and eye-popping abundance of wildlife by any other aquatic system in solar system.

You can learn more by visiting the Australian government’s official Great Barrier Reef Marine Park website. —Paul Guernsey

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