As we wrap up this week’s journey around some of the world’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we head to our final destination down under and explore one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef. The reef comprises more than 3,000 individual reef systems and hundreds of tropical islands. Located just off the coast of Queensland in the Coral Sea, it stretches over 2,300 kilometres and covers an area of more than 344,400 square kilometres. It is so massive that you can even see it from outer space! Think of it this way – it’s larger than Victoria and Tasmania combined.
Why Was It Named a World Heritage Site?
According to UNESCO, the Great Barrier Reef is the most extensive coral reef ecosystem. It was named a World Heritage Site in 1981 because of a variety of reasons. To begin with, no other Heritage Site in the world holds this much biodiversity.
This remarkable ocean habitat is home to over 2,000 species of animals. From whales and dolphins, rays, corals, marine turtles and mammals, birds, fishes and even sea snakes, the Great Barrier Reef has a diverse range of marine wildlife. It also has the largest collection of coral reefs in the entire world.
The Great Barrier Reef’s Biggest Threat
Climate change. The inevitable and irreversible effects of this phenomenon are harming the Great Barrier Reef at an alarming rate. In the summer of 2016, it suffered the worst coral bleaching event ever, losing half of all its coral. This was followed by yet another bleaching event in 2017.
Greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for the increasing temperatures in the ocean, causing the coral bleachings. This ultimately kills the corals in the reef and may take years and years to recover from.
But fret not – the Great Barrier reef has shown signs of improvement. In 2018, according to Tourism and Events Queensland, they have reported that some of the affected areas are displaying “substantial signs of recovery.” Researchers have estimated that it may take five to ten years for the reef to recover completely. Although this may seem like a long time, slow progress is still progress.
Below and above water, the Great Barrier Reef is a natural beauty that needs to be protected. Tourists who wish to visit the reef are free to do so, but as visitors of the place, we need to be mindful and respectful of this diverse aquatic ecosystem and its inhabitants. Adversity may have struck the world’s largest living structure, but with its signs of resilience, it may not be too late for the Great Barrier Reef.