Great Barrier Reef
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Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the entire world

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Time Out says

You can live your best Little Mermaid fantasy at the Great Barrier Reef – the largest coral reef in the entire world. Made up of more than 1,050 islands and 3,000 individual reef systems, this is easily one of Australia’s most sought-after tourist hot spots. You can experience the technicolour marvels of the reef on and off the water, with experiences like snorkelling, scuba diving, glass-bottomed boat viewing, helicopter tours, whale watching and swimming with dolphins.

Is the Great Barrier Reef dying?

In April 2024, the Great Barrier Reef suffered its most widespread coral bleaching event on record, caused by intense heat stress from rising global sea temperatures. This sent shockwaves all around the world, marking the fourth global coral bleaching event and the seventh mass bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.

Great Barrier Reef Authority chief scientist, Dr Roger Beeden, listed “above average water temperatures, widespread coral bleaching, two cyclones and continued crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks” as the main causes of the latest mass bleaching event.

What are the biggest threats faced by the Great Barrier Reef?

Climate change poses the greatest threat to coral reefs worldwide, particularly heat stress caused by rising ocean temperatures over summer and amplified by the recent El Niño phenomenon. Anna Marsden, managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation explains that warmer waters are “forcing marine species to move to cooler habitats, disrupting food supplies and breeding cycles, and threatening entire ecosystems.

“Additionally, ocean acidification is making it more difficult for corals to build skeletons and form reefs, while more frequent and intense weather events like cyclones, flooding and storms are battering the reefs that remain.”

Marsden also points out local threats impacting the Great Barrier Reef specifically, including poor water quality, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, unsustainable fishing practices and coastal development.

Should people still be visiting the Great Barrier Reef?

Despite what you might think, visiting the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best ways we can help conserve its rich and diverse ecosystem. In my role as Travel and News Editor at Time Out Australia, I was lucky enough to visit the reef earlier this year and it opened my eyes to the reality of what’s happening below deck. While it was devastating to see dead patches of the reef firsthand, discovering thriving areas brimming with coral and fish made me even more determined to play my part in saving it.

Olsen explains that tourism “contributes directly to its conservation and management as high-value operators play a role in monitoring and protecting the health of the reef”. 

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has 26 contracted tourism operators who monitor the reef’s health at the sites they visit daily. Every visitor contributes to this effort through an Environmental Management Charge included in their trip fee. This ultimately supports daily monitoring and maintenance, and funds research aimed at improving the reef’s long-term resilience. 

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Great Barrier Reef
Queensland
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