Of recent years much of this huge eco-system has been impacted negatively by climate change as well as run-off from agriculture.
Comprised of thousands of individual reefs, sand cays and islands, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system and was formed over half a million years ago, current reefs being about 10,000 years old.
Changes to its structure occur all the time – for example studies show that hard corals can be replaced by soft corals if water quality changes due to human use, cyclones etc.
As its name suggests, this system of interconnecting reefs forms a protective barrier along the length of the northern part of the Queensland coast in the Coral Sea.
Originally charted by English explorer, Captain James Cook, in 1770, it is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and is home to an amazing variety of coral reef animals - over 1500 Great Barrier Reef fish, crocodiles, stingrays and hundreds of coral, seagrass and sponge species as well as a variety of mangroves.
Be inspired to become a world citizen of the Reef. It's the responsibility of each and every one of us. Watch this video to learn more!
World Heritage listed, the Great Barrier Reef is classed as one of the
seven natural wonders of the world and can be seen from outer space. It
is a vital component of Queensland’s tourism industry, to which it
contributes tens of thousands of job opportunities and generates some
billions of dollars for the Australian economy.
Protecting the Great Barrier Reef is one of the roles of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which helps to limit the sometimes detrimental effects of over-fishing, agriculture, mining and tourism. The Australian government has yet to act decisively to deter climate change, undoubtedly the Reef's worst threat, although the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is in the process of developing strategies to attempt to minimise damage from this cause).
The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait people have long had an emotional and spiritual association with the Great Barrier Reef animals, including turtles, dugongs, crocodiles and fish as well as depending on them for food.
Planning to holiday on or near the Great Barrier Reef? Looking for more Great Barrier Reef facts related to Tourism?
Most of the many islands and sand cays do not have accommodation, or allow overnight camping. So day trips will be the answer unless you wish to stay at exclusive (and expensive) resorts such as that on Lizard Island or Bedarra near Mission Beach.
However there are half a dozen or so islands which allow inexpensive, overnight, camping stays, such as Lizard, Dunk, Whitsundays, Lady Mulgrave, Orpheus, Hinchinbrook and Fitzroy. Many are situated in National Parks, which have strict requirements and limits, including the need to obtain a permit in advance. Because they are in remote locations you will need to be self-sufficent (eg take your own water, food and medical supplies in case of emergencies).
April 2016: months of above-average temperatures have seen the northern sections of the vast Great Barrier Reef begin to bleach. Watch this new video and learn what this means - serious or not?
If you have already holidayed in North Queensland would you like to share your stories about your experiences on the Great Barrier Reef?
Did you go on a Barrier Reef tour? Dive or snorkel? Watch whales or dolphins? Slide through coral ‘bommies’ in a submersible water-craft? Float above a stingray? Come face-to-face with a giant cod?
Please share your experiences via the form, below - photos too?
Do you have a great story to share about your Australian adventures? If so, we would love to hear it.