Why Protecting the Great Barrier Reef Is So Important | Cairns Tours

Why Protecting the Great Barrier Reef Is So Important

By James Dixon | 18th February 2015

The magnificent Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 2,600 kilometres off the coast of Queensland, Australia and comprises more than 900 islands. Greater in size than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined, and able to be seen from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef is an eco-wonderland – home to a vast range of mammalian, fish, and bird species.


One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, along with Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system. Composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs, more than 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises call the area home. In the warm reef waters, amidst spectacular displays of coral and 330-recorded species of ascidiacea – whose incomparable filtering capabilities are a natural barometer of pollution – reside seventeen species of sea snake and more than 1,500 fish species. Sea turtles come to the reef to breed and at least 215 species of shore and sea birds visit the reef to nest and roost.

The Reef is such an important ecosystem for not only Australian oceans, but also the world’s oceans, that losing it would wipe out thousands of important coral and ocean dwelling species. This magnificent ancient site – most likely navigated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as long as 40,000 years ago – is an integral host to living creatures and organisms, notably the coral reefs, which play a vital role in providing habitats and essential nutrients to the marine food chains. Warmer ocean temperatures leading to coral bleaching, affected by climate change, and agricultural pesticide pollution, are the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Careful assessment, management and conservation of the Reef is fundamental to its continued health and robustness. The genetic diversity of species in the Reef not only provides researchers with an opportunity to conserve ecosystems, but importantly allows natural marine communities survival options when environmental conditions alter.

The Great Barrier Reef is a popular tourist destination, which attracts two million visitors per year, generating more than six billion dollars (AU) in commercial currency. While poorly managed tourism, including a disproportionate amount of visitors to mismanaged sites also has a great impact on the delicate biodiversity of an area, this is not a current issue at the Great Barrier Reef, which is renowned for its effective eco-friendly tourist strategies.

Being educated to the great importance of healthy ecosystems and how to manage and maintain them through reducing biological impact, is critical to the health and natural resources of the Great Barrier Reef continuing well into the future.