Great Barrier Reef | Places We Visit in Northern Australia
It is actually not a single reef, but a reef system, comprised of almost 3,000 individual reefs covering a total area of approximately 133,000 square miles. It is the largest living structure on Earth and is home to over 1,500 species of fish, six species of endangered sea turtles, dozens of whale and dolphin species, 4,000 types of mollusks and hundreds of species of coral. It has been growing, expanding and becoming more diverse for over 20 million years.
It is also widely known that it is an ecosystem at risk. As the ocean gets warmer due to climate change and as agricultural runoff pollutes the water, the corals are dying. Mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 killed off half of the living coral. The good news is that reefs are made of living organisms and if the conditions are right, they can recover.
There are areas like the ones that we visit on this trip that are still healthy, vibrant and functioning ecosystems. These mature corals are able to reproduce and are the hope of the future for the Great Barrier Reef. Concerted efforts are underway to prevent pollutants from entering the water and to make sure that industrial fisheries aren’t causing excessive damage to the reef. And long term, we can only hope that the world commits itself to reversing the trend of our warming planet.