The Great Barrier Reef


Acclaimed as one of the “natural wonders of the world”, the Great Barrier Reef is an ancient, enormous host of living things!

The history of the Reef is a long and diverse one, where many generations of coral have built a habitat – eventually the subject of great research by humans.

The Reef is composed of living coral on dead coral and dating back as much as 20 million years. Many generations of coral have built themselves into great walls of stone covered in a diverse range of living organisms such as new coral, algae, anemones, sponges, fish, worms, starfish, turtles, molluscs, snakes, crustaceans and an extraordinary array of thousands of species of plants and animals.

Human contact with the Reef goes back many thousands of years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have fished and hunted its waters and navigated the islands of the Reef region for 40,000 years.

For large parts of that time, during periods of glacial activity, the area of the Great Barrier Reef was dry, with large, flat, coastal plains. This area is at a depth of less than 100 metres below sea level today.

Today studies are carried out at a much closer level, examining the make-up of the Reef, what species exist, how they live and interact, and whether they are resilient or vulnerable to change.

The Reef has a rich history of naval discovery and exploration possibly dating back to the Portuguese explorer Christoveo de Mondonca in 1522. Hydrographer Philip Parker King in 1819 and 1820 carried on the methodical task of accurately charting much of the northern Reef in detail for the first time.

However, there is evidence of an earlier period of discovery, with around 30 shipwreck sites of historical interest known to exist on the Reef.