Visitor Guide

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is Earth’s most extensive coral reef system. Made up of more than 2,900 reefs, with 900 islands, it covers an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres.

Its natural beauty is treasured not only in Australia but throughout the world.

Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is visible from outer space.

The reef consists of many billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. The Great Barrier Reef supports a staggering array of diverse marine life and flora and is the largest single structure created by living organisms.

In 1981 it was designated as a World Heritage Site and was listed among the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust has made it an official icon of the state.

Most of the Great Barrier Reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

The GBRMPA monitors the preservation and protection of the reef from the ongoing impact of human use, including fishing and some forms of tourism.

For many thousands of years, the Great Barrier Reef has been visited by Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It is an essential part of their culture, belief systems and spirituality.

The Great Barrier Reef is also a must-see location for tourists, especially in regions from Bundaberg in central Queensland, through the Whitsunday Islands, to Townsville and Cairns and up to northern Cape. It generates many billions of dollars of economic activity and sustains many small town and large centres.

Supporting a great diversity of marine and plant life, including many endangered species, about 30 different species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef.

Some include large populations of dugongs, the dwarf minke whale, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, as well as the humpback whale.

There are more than 1,500 species of fish living on the Great Barrier Reef, including the clown-fish, red bass, red-throat emperor, and several types of coral trout and snapper. It also hosts 17 species of sea snake in warm waters of up to 50 metres deep. They are much more common in the southern area of the reef than in its northern section.

At certain parts of the year, six different species of sea turtles come to the reef to breed. These include the green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, flat-back turtle and the olive ridley turtle. The green sea turtles have two genetically distinct populations, one located in the northern part of the reef and the other in the southern region.

Fifteen species of seagrass beds attract both dugongs and turtles and providing habitats for the fish.

The Great Barrier Reef is also home to some of the ocean world’s predators. These include around 125 types of shark, stingray and chimaera. Close to 5,000 species of mollusc have been noted to exist in the area, including the giant clam.

In the air, at least 215 species of birds are known to visit the Great Barrier Reef and nest on some of the islands. Of these is the white-bellied sea eagle, one of the 1.7 million birds which visit reef sites for breeding.

The islands are encompassing the Great Barrier Reef support 2,195 types of known species of plants, three of which are endemic. The southern islands, especially in the Whitsunday region, are the most diverse and support 1,141 plant species which are all propagated by birds.