Dive it, snorkel it, fly over it or fish in it, The Great Barrier Reef is the only natural wonder on earth that can be seen from outer space. But do you know anything about The Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef, magical world
By Roy Weavers
Did you know that the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 3,400 individual reefs which are home to a total of some 400 different species of coral?
And did you know that Corals are actually colonies made up of tiny animals called polyps? And there are two types of corals....hard and soft.
Some of the oldest coral is probably about 1,000 years old. Scientists love Coral because their skeleton reflects the weather conditions at the time of their growth. This means really old large corals can provide scientists with valuable data on water temperature and rainfall which helps determine current global warming and probable climate changes.
Visitorâ€™s reaction to the Reef comprises a series of 'oohs' and 'aaahs' and all other squeaks and squeals of joy and wonder in between. Wonder being the key word here. The range of wildlife you encounter on the Great Barrier Reef is â€˜wonderâ€™- full.
Within and around this amazing self contained environment the Coral shares its home with 6 breeding species of sea turtles, 5,000 species of molluscs, over 500 species of seagrass, seaweed and marine algae, 125 species of sharks and over 1,500 species of fish and they don't all answer to the name of Nemo!
Since the captivating Disney movie, Nemo, The Clown (or Anemone) Fish as it should be known has proved to be a huge draw for The Great Barrier Reef. But let's not forget that there's hundreds, if not thousands more species of tropical fish to enjoy. The variety of colours, shapes and sizes of the reef inhabitants is breathtaking.
Whether you're snorkelling or diving you can become bedazzled by the blaze of colours from residents like the Blue Regal Tang or Surgeonfish, you remember Nemo's friend Dory, then there are the yellows of the Butterfly Fish, silver and black of the Damselfish or maybe you like to call them the Sergeant Major Fish because of their stripes, the multi colours of the Unicorn Fish and the Wrasses, the list just doesnâ€™t end. This is why you emerge from your dive or snorkel â€˜oohingâ€™ or â€˜aaahingâ€™ with disbelief that what you've just seen actually exists.
And yes, the fish species do include the shark. But before you go getting all nervous about 125 species of sharks just remember when you're in the sharksâ€™ environment with an expert guide by your side the whole irrational fear thing disappears, honest!
The diverse species of sharks is the equally amazing. The Whale Shark is one of the biggest fish in the world and yet being a plankton feeder it is the most docile giant you could ever bump into. Just recently off the Port Douglas Coast some visitors diving off a Quicksilver cruise did exactly that and had the privilege of swimming with and photographing a Whale Shark who was totally unphased by their presence and moved on to enjoy a good feed nearer the Reef.
You may catch sight of a black-tipped reef shark with its black fin and tail markings but it's described as timid and skittish. In fact that is a description for most of the Great Barrier Reef Shark population, so youâ€™re wasting your time playing the 'Jaws' movie music, itâ€™s amazing not scary!
Each year 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises either visit or live in the Great Barrier Reef waters. Our most famous visitor is probably Migaloo, the only albino, humpback whale in the world, who passes off the Port Douglas coast as he migrates to and from his feeding grounds each July. Humpback Whales are one of the largest animals living on the planet today and the biggest seen around the Great Barrier Reef. When you see them breaching out of the water you can't help thinking how much fun they seem to have. It is a privilege to be able to watch them each year.
During a perfectly calm sunny day in February this year lucky day trippers on board Poseidon came face to face with a very rare visitor, it was identified as a large Bryde's Whale more commonly known as the Brutus Whale. And later that same month passengers aboard the dive and snorkel vessel Silversonic were excited to see five Sei Whales, which are sadly on the endangered species list. They were seen near Silversonicâ€™s â€œThree Sistersâ€ site at Agincourt Reef. While the boat was stationary, one of the whales emerged in full view spending several minutes around the boat before swimming away.
Their smaller cousins, the Dwarf Minke whales also visit the Reef every year between June and July. Research has not yet identified where they come from, or why they gather here but whatever their reasons for popping in and sharing some time with us, we look forward to their visits every year.
Irrawaddy, humpback, spinner and bottlenose dolphins live close to the coast of Queensland most of the year. In fact, we had two bottlenose dolphins late last year. They were playing just 20mtrs off Four Mile Beach with a couple of swimmers who couldn't believe their luck. What a story that must have been when they got back home from their holiday to tell family and friends.
Another big and I mean big reef resident is the Dugong. Often referred to as the 'sea cow' because their diet consists mainly of sea grass. The Great Barrier Reef is fortunate enough to have one of the largest populations of dugongs in the world.
The abundance and diversity of life under the seas within and close to the Reef will overwhelm any visitor but what about the birdwatchers, I hear you ask? Well the Reef boasts over 200 species of birds living on and around it. The Great Barrier Reef is a significantly important habitat for Seabirds, containing more than 25 per cent of Australia's tropical breeding populations. And just off the coast of Port Douglas the variety of bird species which nest or reside around Low Isles includes Osprey, Sea Eagles, Mangrove Kingfishers, White Breasted Wood Swallows and Torres Strait Pigeons and from November to March, 25,000 pairs of migrating Pied Imperial Pigeons nest on next door Woody Isle. And don't forget, just 30 mins up the road, the Daintree Rainforest and River has another 430 species of birds of which 13 species are not seen anywhere else in the world.
But, meanwhile back at the Reef, letâ€™s talk molluscs. Molluscs are soft bodied animals, and many therefore have a hard shell for protection. One of the biggest examples of a shell is the Giant Clam. These giants can grow to be more than one metre long and live for seventy years. Most giant clams are simultaneous hermaphrodites, being both sexes at the same time, which I guess is quite useful at times. They can contain pearls just like their little relatives. The largest pearl in the world sold in New York for about $10 million.
The faster molluscs like the Octopus, cuttlefish and squid have internal skeletons and they can also change colours to suit their mood, so if you get a chance to share some time with one, you'll get your very own light show.
When you book a Great Barrier Reef tour you can sit on the deck and watch the birds, check out the islands, go snorkelling or diving. And if youâ€™ve booked for a fishing trip youâ€™ll even get to touch the inhabitants of the Reef. But whatever your reason for visiting the Reef, you are guaranteed to become immersed in a magical world captivated by marine life that in many cases is unique to the Great Barrier Reef.
If you follow the simple rules that safeguard the Great Barrier Reef youâ€™ll have a truly life changing experience and you'll leave committed to protecting the environment â€˜cos youâ€™ll see why it's vital. All we ask of you is keep spreading the word and then just watch the difference we can make! See you again soon.....