G’day mates! While you’re in Australia, you might want to make sure to check out one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef! This is the world’s most extensive stretch of coral reef, and is the only living thing visible from space. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of thousands of individual reefs, along with hundreds of islands. It also supports an amazingly diverse ecosystem, made up of 350 different species of dazzling corals, over 10,000 species of sponges, over 1500 species of tropical fish, 125 types of sharks, and over 4000 species of mollusks. You’ll also find a wide array of birds, mammals and reptiles! From whales and dolphins to giant sea turtles and marine birds, the reef is a breathtaking ecosystem to witness. If you love aquatic adventures, a Great Barrier Reef getaway is where its at.
While you’re visiting the Great Barrier Reef, whether you’re on a cruise, scuba diving or snorkeling you’re bound to see many of the amazing marine life that calls this place home. The most common animals you’ll see are listed below:
Corals: Corals are the backbone of the Great Barrier Reef’s structure and play a huge part in creating the gorgeous visual beauty that it is known for. This underwater rainbow of corals and fishes initially grew from a hard surface on the ocean floor and continually evolved over the course of 500,000 years, into the amazing ecosystem that it is today. There are two types of corals that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, soft coral and hard coral. Hard Corals, which also go by the name of stony corals, are typically found in shallow tropical waters. These corals can be considered the builders of the reef, as they play a huge role in the swift growth of the Great Barrier Reef. The most common type of hard coral in the Great Barrier Reef is the Staghorn variety. This type of coral forms a limestone casing over time, which becomes an important building block fo the reef and provides more habitats for the creatures that dwell in the reef. Soft Corals are often more visually striking than hard corals. The number of tentacles they have, which is 8 as opposed to the hard corals 6 tentacles also can differentiate them; they also lack a solid exoskeleton, instead they are typically squishy or leathery to the touch. Soft corals are extremely important to the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, as they serve as home to one of the most essential food sources- marine algae-which the entire ecosystem depends on. The food chain found here uses algae as their main form of sustenance, which then serve as food for larger predators and so on. You might be wondering how coral is created? Well coral spread and reproduce using a process known as spawning. This occurs when coral releases eggs and sperm into the surrounding ocean, usually about 10 days after a full moo; this affects fertilization rates due to different tidal factors.
Fish: The Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1500 different species of tropical fish. Here you’ll find everything from tiniest fish to the biggest kind of shark on earth. The multitude of fish combined with the density found in the Great Barrier Reef, creates a scuba diver’s paradise! The different types of fish that live in the reef can be divided up into a few main families, each with distinctively unique characteristics. The major families of the Great Barrier Reef include Angelfish, Butterfly Fish, Cardinal Fish, Clown Fish, Damselfish, Gobies, Groupers & Cods, Parrot Fish, Sharks, Surgeon Fish, Trigger Fish, Trout, and Wrasse.
Dolphins & Whales: With the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the massive amount of food and feeding grounds, this is the best place for marine mammals to be found. Typically you’ll find dolphins and whales both looking to feed and find shelter areas for their young. The most common whales of the Great Barrier Reef are Humpback Whales and Dwarf Minke Whales. Humpback Whales, one of Australia’s most iconic marine mammals, is quite common and a favorite to see while diving and whale watch cruises. These whales migrate annually between the Antarctic and the Great Barrier Reef. They grow from 12-16 meters and can usually be spotted from Cairns and Port Douglass. They spend their time playing and relaxing, and are known for their amazing breaching and tail slapping displays. Dwarf Minke Whales, only slightly smaller than their cousin the Humpback Whale, these whales average just less than 8 meters in length and weigh up to five tons. Dwarf Minke Whales, similar to Humpback whales, are rather social and will often approach boats and other vessels making it easy to spot them. Bottlenose Dolphins are the most common type of dolphin you’ll see among the Great Barrier Reef. Their numbers are large and they are also very social and curious, as well as intelligent. Bottlenose dolphins can be found in cold-temperate waters, as well as tropical seas all over the world and are very powerful swimmers. Their top swimming speed is around 37 kilometers per hour, this combined with their high levels of intelligence givies them the upper hand when it comes to escaping from predators. Bottlenose dolphins usually travel in large groups, lending to their social nature, and can be found following tour boat, playing in their wake as well as leaping out of the water and cackling along. Keep your eyes open while out on a boat or even while swimming off the reef, not only are they a sight to see but their interactions are magical!
While you’re visiting the Great Barrier Reef, make sure to soak up all the natural beauty around you as well as learn a few things about the amazing ecosystem that inhabits this natural wonder. Are you ready for your Australian getaway? Give us a call at 312-951-8517, and let us help you plan the adventure of a lifetime! For sample itineraries click here.