The Great Barrier Reef Facts and Information

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s own natural wonder of the world and is named so with good reason.

The reef system is the largest in the world and contains one of the highest concentrations of diverse wildlife found anywhere in the world.  Some of the world’s best dive sites are easily accessible from Cairns with just a short trip out to the reef.

Some Great Barrier Reef facts at a glance:

  • It stretches 2,600 km along the tropical far north Queensland coast and covers an area nearly 350,000 km2. The next largest reef is the Belize reef in the Caribbean spanning only 290 km.
  • The reef is so large that it is the only living thing on Earth that can be seen from space.
  • It is not actually a single reef but an entire eco-system comprised of over 2,500 individual reefs and over 900 islands and sandy coral cays.
  • The reef is home to thousands of species of marine life. Fish, coral, crustaceans, birds, sea snakes, sharks, rays, turtles, whales and dolphins can all be found along the reef system.


Great Barrier Reef Weather

Cairns weather

Being located in the tropics, the reef does not experience the traditional seasons experienced in most of the world. Instead of spring, summer, autumn/fall and winter, the tropical climate has two seasons; “Wet” and “dry”, identified by the consistently high and low levels of rainfall in each.

The temperature is always warm, ranging between 25 and 31 degrees (Celsius) keeping the water warm enough to swim all year round.  November through May marks the stinger season each year so swimmers are advised to wear stinger suits.


coral reef
coral reef

What is Coral?

Of all the facts about the Great Barrier Reef, the one that surprises most people is about coral.  While to the casual observer coral looks like a plant and seems to create a vast underwater garden, they are actually animals!

Each coral structure is actually a colony of thousands of tiny connected polyps that are related to jellyfish and sea anemones.  As the polyps continually divide and connect with each they appear like a slowly growing garden.

During the day, coral harmlessly feed from the algae that live on them.  If observed at night however, coral colonies show their true nature.  Each colony is equipped with venomous barbs that will reach out and catch passing zooplankton and other small fish and invertebrates.

How was the Great Barrier Reef created?

Over thousands of years, coral polyps floating along the ocean currents would attach to rocky surfaces on the sea floor.  There they would make their home, growing and spreading until they eventually die to be replaced with new colonies.

As more coral grows on top and the cycle repeats itself, those submerged rocky surfaces have gradually evolved over time into the impressive reef structures that make up the reef we know today.

The Great Barrier Reef was not built overnight and is host to an entire eco-system of marine life.

The reef is a protected  marine park and tourism is highly regulated to ensure that everyone can enjoy this fragile environment for years to come.