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Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Australia

GPS: -16.015732826403, 145.83562545093

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Stretching over 2,000 km along the Queensland coast of north-east Australia, the Great Barrier Reef has the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world. Its clear and shallow waters rest on a continental shelf, a vast area submerged in the extension of the Australian continent. This gigantic place actually brings together two types of independent and discontinuous reefs for a total of more than 400 different species of corals: the fringing reef (as close as possible to the coast) and the barrier reef (naturally forming a lagoon off the coast).

The Great Barrier Reef represents the largest protected maritime area on the planet. This stretch of sea water is made up of nearly 3,000 different reefs and just under 1,000 islands, islets and atolls widely dispersed between the city of Bundaberg in the south and the Torres Strait in the north. It is the famous British navigator James Cook who was one of the first to explore and map the area in the second half of the 18th century. Aboard the Endeavor sailboat, a former merchant ship made available by the Royal Navy, he fails on a sandbank as he covets the discovery of a new continent, called Terra Australis. A place of choice for birds, the Great Barrier Reef is above all known for its incredible reservoir of marine fauna in which there are many species of whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins or dugongs. The fishery heritage of this large underwater area brings together 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 varieties of molluscs including various tropical and endemic species.

The golden beaches in the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef enjoy an exceptional sunshine rate. Each year they attract more than 2 million visitors who are not safe for the balance of its fragile ecosystem. Regularly, specialists are concerned about the degree of whitening that the Great Barrier Reef is increasingly confronted with. This slow death is explained by a combination of factors (including prolonged exposure to light and the sharp rise in water temperatures) which cause significant destruction of corals. To slow this bleaching phenomenon, the Australian government recently launched a program to restore and adapt reefs to make them more resistant.

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  • An ecosystem and biodiversity unique in the world; a heritage fragile and precious for humanity; the 600 tropical islands scattered in the Coral Sea; the ability of coral to rebuild despite the strong pressure exerted by humans
  • The crystal colours of lagoons in the gaits of paradise; the coexistence of thousands of tropical species and brightly coloured fish
  • The wide variety of corals, the colony of seagrasses (aquatic flower plants), mangroves, green rainforest and fine sandy beaches
  • Thousands of species of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and shellfish; the different varieties of sea turtles and sea snakes; the incessant ballet of small fish ensuring the grooming of larger species (they only feed parasites)
  • The diversity of birds and marine mammals (dugong, humpback whale, pilot whale, shark, dolphin…)
  • The numerous nautical and outdoor activities (swimming, diving with tuba, scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, fishing, aerial overflight, semi-submersible boat, glass bottom boat, catamaran cruises, luxury sailboat or yacht and exploring the islands
  • The sea-board walks (Boardwalk in Cairns, The Strand in Townsville and Bicentennial Walkway in Airlie Beach); the panoramic roads (Castle Hill in Townsville and Fort Walk on Magnetic Island)
  • Visiting the Cairns Botanic Garden, the Billabong Sanctuary south of Townsville, the James Cook Museum in Cooktown and the Capricorn Caves in Rockhampton
  • The main destinations of the Great Barrier Reef: Cairns, Townsville, Port Douglas, Hamilton Island, Hervey Bay, Mission Beach, Hayman Island, Hinchinbrook, Fraser Island, Shoalwater Bay, Whitsundays, Low Isles and Whitehaven Beach
  • Nearly 40,000 female turtles lay their eggs each year on the beaches of the Great Barrier Reef. Raine Island is the largest sea turtle nesting area in the world.
  • The coral reef of this huge natural site covers a total area greater than the territory of the United Kingdom (270,000 km² of corals) and was formed 60 million years ago. It serves as a shelter and refuge for many marine species living in symbiosis and constitutes a large reserve of food. Corals participate in the coastal protection of the islands : they surround in the face of erosion, reduce the damage linked to the formation of storms, cyclones or hurricanes and play a defensive role in the event of a tsunami. According to a long natural process, they can turn into foundations for stones, rocky islands, cliffs or mountains.
  • Visible from space, coral reefs form a biotope of incredible richness and biological diversity. It is a complex underwater natural structure composed of coral, a succession of living organisms called polyps. These tiny animals that cause the reef’s flora and fauna form veritable underwater cities. Put end to end, they generate immense living colonies, the most important in the world. These corals seek to grow their limestone skeleton by extracting the calcium carbonate present in the water of tropical seas (they also depend on the sunlight to develop). They feed on microscopic, carbon and calcium algae which are their main source of food. These microalgae produce toxins when the water temperature increases and are then excluded from corals which end up whitening and starving.
  • Like trees, corals have the ability to capture carbon dioxide through its microalgae that release oxygen. Dependent on solar energy, corals are crucial to fight the emission of greenhouse gases. Indeed, a third of the carbon dioxide generated by industry and human activity dissolves in the ocean (the increase in carbon dioxide increases the acidity of water, coral bleaching, the expulsion of symbiotic algae and the fine death of corals).
  • In total, coral species are as varied as animal and plant creatures living in tropical forests. However, they tend to disappear five times faster. The extinction of corals could lead to a major imbalance in the food chain of the oceans and cause disastrous consequences for the planet. Research is currently being carried out on dry land, in the laboratory, to repopulate coral reefs and make them more resistant to rising temperatures as well as increased acidity of water. In Pacific waters, unarmed ships and stone statues are voluntarily sunk to promote the development of new coral reefs. A robot has been specially programmed to track down and kill a species of starfish responsible for the large-scale death of corals (crown-of-thorns starfish). Other techniques aim to slow down the disappearance of coral by about 20 years.
  • The majority of corals are hermaphrodites and reproduce according to the lunar cycle once or twice a year. As part of external fertilization, the polyps simultaneously release sperm and ova (male and female gametes in the form of larvae) into water to promote large-scale egg reproduction between corals of the same species. Endowed with strong resilience, the coral colonies first seek to develop in height, in search of light, before spreading in width.
  • Corals are an important resource for humans in the design of new medicines. Its chemical compounds are used in the fight against cancer and to promote bone transplants. They are also invaluable in medical and scientific research against leukemia, HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, Down’s syndrome, cardiovascular disease and ulcers.
  • In 2020, the Great Barrier Reef experienced the largest bleaching ever recorded in its southern part. February saw its temperatures reach historic records, 3 °C above normal. This Queensland natural site has undergone a total of three phases of mass laundering in just five years (2016, 2017 and 2020) knowing that it would need ten years to regenerate. The three regions (north, centre, south) of the Great Barrier Reef are now impacted whereas the southern part had been spared until then.
  • At the end of 2020, a major new coral reef was discovered in the deep waters north of the Great Barrier Reef, towards the Cape York Peninsula. This living structure is 500 metres high and 1 kilometre long. It reaches 40 metres below the surface. This is the first discovery of its kind for over 120 years.
  • With the increased expansion and frequency of bleaching, corals are at great risk of disappearing soon. Scientists agree that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to keep the reef alive and that urgent action must be taken at different scales to save it. Overfishing, the mass elimination of sharks (vital in the maintenance of the reef), the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (increasing the acidity of the oceans), human pollution (wastewater, fishing techniques non-virtuous, use of sunscreens, maritime traffic…), destruction of mangroves, flooding of reefs (caused by forests exploitation). Ultimately, it could completely disappear within thirty years.
  • Due to the humid subtropical climate, the best time of the year to explore the Great Barrier Reef under the best possible conditions is from April to August.
  • Hamilton Island, the main archipelago of the Whitsunday Islands, is equipped with an international airport connected to the continental Australian cities of Cairns and Brisbane.
  • The wreckage of the SS Yongala liner, which tragically sank off the coast of Australia in 1911, is one of the most popular underwater sites for divers for its artificial reef teeming with fish.
  • Limit your impacts on this environment as much as possible, as it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of human activity and global warming.

Where to eat

  • Le Sorelle Coffee House & Florist
    (royal breakfast)
  • Gelocchio
    (exotic ice cream)
  • On the Inlet
    (quality seafood)

Where to go out

  • Daintree National Park
    (worthy of the Jurassic Park)
  • Reef Teach
    (introduction to the reef)
  • Hartley's Crocodile Adventures
    (spectacular animal park)

Where to sleep

  • Sanctuary Retreat
    (in the middle of the rainforest)
  • Citywalk Motor Inn
    (elegant motel)
  • Lizard Island Resort
    (dream refuge)

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