From the World Heritage inscription for the Great Barrier Reef:
As the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef is a globally outstanding and significant entity. Practically the entire ecosystem was inscribed as World Heritage in 1981, covering an area of 348,000 square kilometers and extending across a contiguous latitudinal range of 14o (10oS to 24oS). The Great Barrier Reef includes extensive cross-shelf diversity, stretching from the low water mark along the mainland coast up to 250 kilometers offshore. This wide depth range includes vast shallow inshore areas, mid-shelf, and outer reefs, and beyond the continental shelf to oceanic waters over 2,000 meters deep.
Within the Great Barrier Reef, there are some 2,500 individual reefs of varying sizes and shapes, and over 900 islands, ranging from small sandy cays and larger vegetated cays to large rugged continental islands rising, in one instance, over 1,100 meters above sea level. Collectively these landscapes and seascapes provide some of the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world.
The latitudinal and cross-shelf diversity, combined with diversity through the depths of the water column, encompasses a globally unique array of ecological communities, habitats, and species. This diversity of species and habitats and their interconnectivity make the Great Barrier Reef one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth. There are over 1,500 species of fish, about 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, and some 240 species of birds, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, and other species. No other World Heritage property contains such biodiversity. This diversity, especially the endemic species, means the GBR is of enormous scientific and intrinsic importance, and it also contains a significant number of threatened species. At the time of inscription, the IUCN evaluation stated “… if only one coral reef site in the world were to be chosen for the World Heritage List, the Great Barrier Reef is the site to be chosen”.
As I noted in my World Heritage Site overview, it is hard to get a real grasp of the size Great Barrier Reef from the surface of the Earth. Unless you are in a jumbo jet flying over the reef at 30,000 feet, you can’t see how big it is, and even in a jet, you can only see a fraction of it.
There are several locations in Queensland where you can access the reef. I went diving in the Whitsunday Islands off Airlie Beach and in Cairns. I also had the chance to do some real underwater photography with my camera.
If you visit Australia with the idea of standing on a hill and taking in the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef….forget it. You can’t see it from shore in most places. You’ll need to take at least an hour long boat ride to get out to the reef.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.