The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, the 8th living wonder of the world, stretches along the coast of Queensland for more than 2,000 kilometres from Lady Elliott Island in the south to the tip of Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian continent. This reef is by far the largest single collection of coral reefs in the world. Its 2900 reefs and almost 1000 islands are home to 1500 species of fish, 242 types of birds, 22 different kinds of whales, 500 different seaweeds, 6 breeding species of turtle and 400 species of coral.
It comprises a rich diversity of coast, coral reefs and cays and continental islands. The scenery both above and below water is breathtaking.
Coral Cays are low islands formed entirely from the sedimentary debris swept into a particular part of the reef by wave action. No continental rocks are associated with coral cays, which are thus clearly differentiated from the "high" islands with fringing reefs usually found closer to the mainland.
Fringing reefs are coral structures which are attached to the mainland or to continental high islands. In the Great Barrier Reef Region most fringing reefs are found around continental islands, particularly in reef waters north of Mackay. As many of the Barrier Reef resorts are located on such islands, particularly in the Whitsunday Group, fringing reefs are probably the reef type most commonly seen by visitors.
Fringing reefs begin as isolated coral colonies attracted or close to rocky shores. In time they may provide a continuous reef flat with most live coral restricted to the outer slope. Fringing reefs show a great variety of coral species. Here dead and living branching corals co-exist with large fleshy soft corals.
The Whitsunday Islands have a great variety of reefs including narrow fringes around rocky shores and wider reef flats particularly on the leeside of high islands.
Soft corals are marine animals with soft bodies made up of large numbers of identical polyps connected by fleshy tissue. They lack the rigid limestone skeletons of their more famous relatives, the hard corals, but still occupy an important place among Barrier Reef animals. In some environments, they make up almost half of the living tissue on the reef surface. Although soft corals are animals, they contain small algae within their tissues, which are capable of converting the sun's energy into food. The animal and plant cells exist in a co-operative association called a symbiosis. This relationship also exists in hard corals, clams and many other marine organisms. Although soft corals look defenceless as they sway backwards and forwards under the influence of ocean currents, very few marine animals eat soft corals, for reasons which are not immediately obvious.
Reef walking is a popular activity for exploring the inter tidal area or reef flat. It allows people the opportunity to discover a variety of marine plants and animals. Make sure you wear protective footwear at all times - especially during the summer months when the box jelly fish is around - and allow at least 1 hour either side of the low tide and make sure you keep a watch on the incoming tide. Remember, when you look at something and move it, replace it as it was, as it is probably home to a small marine creature.
The islands within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are a popular destination where you can appreciate the true natural setting. It will only stay this way if you enjoy your visit and make sure the only thing you leave behind is your footprints in the sand.
Access to the reef is available direct from island resorts along the Queensland coast, and from nearby mainland towns and cities. Dive boats, high speed wave piercers, catamarans, seaplanes, helicopters, yachts, motor cruisers and game fishing boats all offer services to the best parts of the reef, where you can enjoy the spectacular diving and snorkelling, swimming, and viewing the corals and stunning reef fish.
You can bring your own boat, cruiser or yacht, or hire one when you arrive, or you can enjoy the luxury of being taken there by one of the many tours that operate along the coast. Whichever way you choose - you will be sure to enjoy the beauty of this magnificent part of the world and your Holiday Round North Queensland.