A World Heritage Site and amazingly one of the Seven Wonders of the World sits over one-hundred and fifty feet below the surface off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef visible from space, encompasses over one-hundred thousand square miles of the Coral Sea and boasting its own nine-hundred islands and almost three-thousand individual reefs, offering a home to billions of organisms and supports a diverse amount of life on this planet.
The famous reef with both northern and a southern areas, is home to over thirty species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, a half a dozen species of large sea turtles, salt water crocodiles, over one-hundred species of sharks, as well as stingray. Almost five-thousand species of mollusc live in the Great Barrier Reef including the giant clam, along with fifteen-hundred species of fish many of which are rare, nine species of seahorse, seventeen species of sea snakes, along with starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers comprising six hundred species of echinoderms. Also attracted to feeding from life on the reef are over two hundred species of sea and shore birds including the white-breasted sea eagles who are a magnificent sight snatching their prey from the surface.
At the base of the great reef are over four hundred species of both hard and soft shell corals covered in over five hundred varieties of marine algae and seaweeds also living in the reef. The hard coral creates a backbone for the reef with the oldest of corals estimated at over one-thousand years old. As hard corals grow only about a half an inch annually, with their skeleton showing the signs of each year like a tree grows rings, they offer science hundreds of years of invaluable information on their living conditions and the effects of water temperatures and global changes.
One unusual animal at home in the Great Barrier Reef are the Dugongs, a large sea mammal most closely related to the elephants weighing in at 800 pounds, surviving on sea grasses and living into their seventies. Many diverse species also pass through the Great Barrier Reef on annual migrations such as the Humpback whales, recorded as the fifth largest animals in the world. The dwarf like Minke whales also pass through the reef in June and July feeding on plankton and krill through their baleen comb-like jaws which scoop up the food and push out the water.
The biodiversity of the ecosystem of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been compared to the land’s equivalent of a rain forest and equally important to preserve and protect in an effort to save the planet.