The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site, is the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem. It is wide and vast, and consists of extensive cross-shelf diversity, stretching from the low water mark nearest the mainland, and along the coast, up to 130 miles offshore. This range in depths includes vast shallow inshore areas, mid-shelf and outer reefs, finally stretching all the way to beyond the continental shelf in ocean waters over 500 feet deep. Encompassing a globally unique array of ecological communities, habitats, and species, the Great Barrier Reef’s diversity is due to its latitudinal and cross-shelf location, making it one of the richest and complex eco-systems on earth. The Reef is home to over 15,000 species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusk, 240 species of birds, and a notable variety of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans. No other World Heritage site can boast such biodiversity. It is because of this great biodiversity that it is considered to hold great scientific and intrinsic importance. It is also home to a significant amount of endangered species. Some of the most specular scenery on earth is on display underwater in the Great Barrier reef, and it is one of only a few living structures viewable from space. It appears as a complex string of reef structures along the northeast coast of Australia.
Viewed from the air, the panorama of mosaic patterns of reefs, islands and coral cays is truly breathtaking in its diversity of shapes and size. The nearby Whitsunday Islands exhibit a landscape of sensational sandy beaches met by cerulean waters and vistas of green vegetated islands. The vast mangrove forests of nearby Hinchbrook Island contrast with lush cloud-covered rainforest gullies and rugged mountains. On nearby isles, there live colonies of seabirds and marine turtles. Raine Island boasts the world’s largest green turtle breeding area, and large groups of over-wintering butterflies can be seen on some continental islands. Just beneath the surface of the ocean, there is a plethora of diversity of shapes, sizes and colors. Spectacular coral throngs and thousands of species of reef fish display a rainbow of brilliant colors, shapes and sizes.