Great Barrier Reef – The Largest Reef System of the World

Situated in the Coral Sea off the Queensland coast in northeastern part of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system and a World Heritage Listed Site. Spreading over an area of about 344,400 square km, the awesome Great Barrier Reef comprises of over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It has a tropical climate and swimming can be done all through the year as the water is warm.

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Regions

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is demarcated into 70 bioregions. Ribbon reefs and deltaic reefs are seen in the northern part and fringing reefs are found mostly in the southern part. Lagoonal reefs and planar reefs are located in the northern and southern parts and crescentic reefs are situated in the far northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

Animals

The Great Barrier Reef has an amazing variety of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and other wildlife. Whales, dolphins, porpoises and dugongs are among the mammals found here. It’s home to many varieties of sea turtles such as the green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, flatback sea turtles and the Olive Ridley sea turtles. Fish species include sharks, stingrays and skates or chimaeras, pipe fish, sea horses, clown fish, red bass, red throat emperors, snappers and coral trout. Mollusks like the giant clams and cone snails are found in the reef. You can also see saltwater crocodiles and a stunning variety of seabirds and shorebirds, especially the White-bellied Sea Eagles and Roseate Terns. Seventeen species of sea snakes are found to a depth of up to 164 ft in the warm waters of the reef.

Plants

About 2,195 plant species grow on the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Hard corals and soft corals numbering about 400 species inhabit the reef. Five hundred species of marine algae or seaweed and 15 species of sea grasses grow in the reef.

Attractions

1. Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island is one of 6 island resorts in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Beach snorkeling, reef walking, swimming, turtle and whale watching, touring the reef in a glass bottomed boat and diving are some of the delightful things to do here.

2. Lady Musgrave Island

The Lady Musgrave Island is used by campers and scuba divers. White capped Noddy Terns, Bridled Terns, Black Naped Terns and Silver Gulls are among the several species of birds are found here. Migratory birds such as Wedge tailed Shearwaters, migratory Ruddy Turnstones, Grey tailed Tattlers, Wandering Tattlers, Bar tailed Godwits, Pacific Golden Plovers and Lesser Sand Plovers can also be seen. Green and Loggerhead turtles come here to nest on the island.

3. Heron Island

Heron Island is situated about 72 km north east of the town of Gladstone, at the southern end of the reef. Tourists can enjoy bird watching, turtle watching, island and reef walks and reef tours (glass bottomed boat tours, dives and helicopter flights). Swimming and snorkeling are also popular.

4. Great Keppel Island

Located about 15 km from the coast off Yeppoon, Great Keppel Island is also known as Wappaburra which means ‘resting place’. The eastern part of the island has magnificent beaches like Fishermans Beach, Long Beach and Putney Beach. Water sports include water skiing, snorkeling, parasailing and boating.

5. Brampton Island

Brampton Island is situated at a distance of 30 km north east of Mackay. Water sports, hiking, golfing, tennis and snorkeling are some of the stimulating pastimes for tourists on this island.

6. Long Island

Long Island is situated near the mainland, south of Shute Harbour. There are several walks through densely wooded vegetation leading to lonely and isolated bays and headlands. Enthralling things to do here include island hopping, cruising, playing tennis, waterskiing and parasailing.

7. Lindeman Island

Lindeman Island has 7 amazing beaches including Gap Beach where one can go snorkeling or oystering. In season, Dolphins and Humpback Whales can be seen from the shore. One can walk through Butterfly Valley or climb Mount Oldfield which, at a height of 212 m above sea level, offers magnificent views of Pentecost, Hamilton and Whitsunday Islands.

8. Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island boasts of the Hamilton Island Golf Club and the multipurpose Hamilton Island Yacht Club. Visitors can indulge in recreational pursuits like tennis, whale watching, waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and scenic flights. Supervised activities for children include arts and crafts, beachcombing, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, mini-golf and pool games. There are natural tropical bush land and 7 bushwalking trails for those inclined to walk and explore. The island also has a Fauna Park with emus, wombats, kangaroos, koalas and crocodiles.

9. Koala Adventure Island

Earlier known as South Molle Island, Koala Adventure Island is at a distance of about 8 km north east of Shute Harbour. Snorkeling, cruising, scuba diving, jet skiing, water skiing, parasailing, sail boarding, swimming, golfing and walking are some of the delightful things one can indulge in here. South Molle Island National Park has several interesting walks leading to beautiful isolated beaches.

10. Whitsunday Island

The Whitsunday Island with the famous Whitehaven Beach is accessible via ferries, cruising yachts, seaplanes and helicopters. With a length of 7 km, clear blue waters and white silica sand, Whitehaven Beach is a gorgeous beach to visit.

11. Daydream Island

Daydream Island can be reached from Shute Harbour via boat, plane and helicopter and from Hamilton Island by launch. Exhilarating activities like jet skiing, parasailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing and kayaking are just some of the things tourists can do. There is a hiking track for hikers leading through lush green rainforest and the world’s largest outdoor aquarium with 50 marine fish and coral species.

12. Hayman Island

A launch from Hamilton Island or a water taxi from Airlie Beach will get one to Hayman Island. Compelling and absorbing sports like windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and waterskiing can be enjoyed here. Sports enthusiasts can play golf and tennis.

13. Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is located about 8 km from Townsville and takes about 20 minutes by ferry to reach. Wildlife here includes koalas, possums, rock wallabies, curlews, hawks, eagles and parrots. Tourists can take part in riveting diversions like fishing, horse riding, jet skiing and snorkeling. Golfing and walking are the other interesting activities.

14. Dunk Island

About 5 km south east of Mission Beach is The Dunk Island. Reptiles like pythons, tree snakes, monitor lizards, geckos and skinks are found here. Marine life includes sea turtles, dugongs, corals, fish, shellfish and crabs. One can enjoy the green rainforest walk and a view from the top of Mount Kootaloo with a 2 level wooden viewing area.

15. Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is situated about 25 km from Cairns. Entertaining activities on the tourist agenda include swimming, glass bottomed boat tour of the fringing reef, snorkeling, scuba diving and sea kayaking. The Lighthouse or Summit Trail leads to a lighthouse on the north-west point. One can have heart stopping views of the surrounding reefs, little Fitzroy Island and Cape Grafton from the top of the lighthouse.

16. Green Island

Situated at a distance of 27 km north east from the coast of Cairns, Green Island can be reached via high speed catamaran, launch, jet boat and sailing boat. Snorkeling, scuba diving, sea walking, parasailing, helicopter scenic flights and glass bottomed boat tours are popular activities on this island. There is an underwater observatory situated at the jetty. Another added attraction is a beautiful tropical vine forest with 60 species of birds and 130 species of plants.

Quick Facts

Location: The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea off the Queensland coast in the northeastern part of Australia.

Altitude: Below sea level to 40 m above sea level

Temperature: A tropical climate with average summer temperatures ranging from 24?C to 33?C and average winter temperatures ranging from 14 ?C to 26 ?C.

Best time to travel: July to September

Accommodation: Holiday apartments, villas, resorts, cottages and lodges are available at Cairns, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Whitsundays, Townsville and Port Douglas. Holiday Apartments in Cairns include 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with a self contained kitchen and laundry.

Getting There

A very good way of getting to the Great Barrier Reef would be to fly in to Cairns airport and then hiring a boat, water taxi, or seaplane to the Great Barrier Reef.

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