The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system. Stretching for over 2300 kilometres along the Queensland coast in Australia, it is comprised of approximately 2900 individual reefs and over 900 sand cays and islands.
Coral reefs are the result of thousands of years growth by tiny coral animals called polyps. Most of the polyps live together in colonies and secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton which makes up the base of the coral reef. Over the past 6000 to 8000 years, in conjunction with a single cell algae that lives in their tissues, the coral polyps have created the massive structure that we know as the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area in 1981 and is the largest World Heritage Area in the world covering over 350,000 square kilometres. It was recognised not only as an area with outstanding natural beauty but also as one of the most diverse places on the planet. There are over 1500 species of reef fish found on the Great Barrier Reef, 360 species of hard coral, 500 species of seaweed and 23 species of marine mammals. Even today scientists are frequently discovering new species on the reef; and there are almost certainly thousands yet to be discovered.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to many vulnerable or endangered species including Hawksbill Turtles, Dwarf Minke Whales, Giant Clams and various shark species. Much work has been done, and is continuing to be done, to protect these animals by organisations such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority making the Great Barrier Reef one of the best managed and best protected reefs in the world. Diving or snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is one of those must do experiences! You are likely to encounter a myriad of colourful and amazing creatures, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. On your trip out to the reef, which lies about 22 kilometres from Mission Beach, you may see dolphins or dugongs and, at certain times of the year, the spectacle of migrating hump-back whales on their journey north.
Mission Beach is an ideal base from which to explore the reef. Not only is it the closest access point on the mainland to the reef, but it is also backs onto another World Heritage Area; the Wet Tropics Rainforest. In Mission Beach you can experience not only pristine reef systems but also amazing rainforest walks on your doorstep!
With thanks to Pete Faulkner. For more information on the Great Barrier Reef please see Pete's website: Conus Dive Training.