The Great Barrier Reef
The only living organism visible from outer space with its vast array of reefs and islands stretching across the Australian North-Eastern coastline it is larger than the Great Wall of China occupying an area of 348,000 square kilometers and across latitudinal ranges 10 degrees South to 24 degrees South; over 3000 individual coral reefs and clays making it the most impressive coral reef system in the world as well as over 900 islands that are managed through the Queensland Government jurisdiction. The combined efforts and work from Australian Federal, Queensland Government, Indigenous, and Torres Strait Islander manage the Marine Park through legislation, jurisdiction, controlling visitor and tourist numbers, and allowed activities and permits.
Home to many unique Australian marine flora and fauna that depend on it for their survival it became listed as a World Heritage Site in 1981; there are no other World Heritage listed site with a biodiversity that has as much breadth, depth, and complexity as it does. Due to its massive area it crosses over many natural environments that are connected and have their own inter-dependability with each other which plays a part of it being one the most complex and diverse ecosystems on Earth.
One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world it has formed over a very long time experiencing at least four glacial and inter-glacial cycles. The history of the reef involves it being exposed when ocean levels dropped during the glacial periods which made the entire eastern Australian coastline further out than it currently is. The reefs then were flat-topped eroded limestone hills; when sea levels rose during inter-glacial times islands and coral cays coupled with coral reef growth. Over thousands of years the complex processes of geological, geo-morphological, oceanographic, environmental, erosion, accumulation of coral reefs, and algae calcification have and will continue to form the seascape and landscape. Because of how much flora and fauna rely on it its scientific and intrinsic importance and value cannot be underestimated.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander depict their use and long history with the reef with stories, marine totems, shell deposits (middens), and fish traps.
For the most part it is intact and it presents the most complete picture of marine ecological, physical, and chemical processes. Supports one of the largest populations of the threatened Dugong, is an important whale-calving, 6 of the 7 species of marine turtles live here (with the largest green turtle breeding site on one of the islands), and 22 species of seabirds rely on the cay for breeding. The Reef plays host to over 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, 240 species of birds, plus a whole range of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, and others. Threatened by climate change which changes the fragile and particular environment the Marine Park and its inhabitants rely on to live, and by pollution especially from farm fertilizer chemical run-off.
Activities for tourists and visitors alike include snorkeling, swimming with Dolphins, Whale watching, cruise ship trips, guided and educational tours, exploring inside submersibles, bare sailing (sail your own boat), and helicopter and airplane trips. Effective conservation programs are vital for the optimal management of the World Heritage property as a multiple-use area as the components of the Great Barrier Reef largely exist naturally without human intervention and have their own processes that determine the health and longevity occur mostly outside of the Marine Park.
As it covers such a large area State and Federal governments jurisdictions the property’s management is complex to say the least. The independent Australian government agency that is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for the conservation and the management of the globally recognized marine park. The original Great Barrier Reef Act 1975 was revised in 2007 and 2008 to include “the long term protection and conservation…of the Great Barrier Reef region” also specifically mentioning meeting “…Australia’s responsibilities under the World Heritage Convention”. Though the protection and management appear to just apply to the health and status of the Marine Park but it also applies to commercial, recreational, research, public, and government uses and interest. Through the culmination of multi-level jurisdiction coupled with legislation provides a detailed coverage of more than just the islands and marine areas.