The closest I’ve come to visiting the Great Barrier Reef is watching the Disney movie, Finding Nemo, but that hasn’t kept me from dreaming of visiting this natural wonder one day. It’s on my bucket list for good reason. Located off the northeastern coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on the planet and the largest living organism that can be seen from space. With more than 2,500 individual reefs and 980 islands, the Great Barrier Reef stretches beyond the Great Wall of China at 1,429 miles and is 3.7 trillion square feet.
The spectacular biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef is one of its most attractive attributes and helps draw in loads of tourists every year. In fact, it is home to more than 25% of all known marine species, including more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. At this point, it might be easier to name which animals don’t live among the Great Barrier Reef! Here are five of the most iconic species that I’ll get to see when I finally make it to the Great Barrier Reef:
While clownfish are certainly THE most iconic fish we consider when discussing the Great Barrier Reef, there are actually 1,625 species of fish known to live in this area including the whale shark and the Australian native potato cod. That’s 10% of all the world’s known fish species!
Six of the seven sea turtle species call the Great Barrier Reef home. The green sea turtle is the only herbivorous sea turtle, however, and plays a critical role in keeping the seagrass beds in check.
Home to more than 130 types of sharks and rays, you’re most likely to spot a blacktip or whitetip reef shark among the Great Barrier Reef. Reef sharks live and hunt in and around the edges of reefs because there is an abundant supply of food.
The reef provides an incredible place to shelter young whales. During the Australian winter, many whale species migrate to the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef to mate and give birth. Humpback whales, orcas and dwarf minke whales are among the 30 species of whale that frequent the area.
The giant clam is the largest living bivalve mollusk, weighing around 500 pounds and growing up to four feet in length! These filter feeders are among the most vibrantly colored species on the reef. In fact, their color provides a strong indication of their health. Much like the corals of the reef, when giant clams are dying, they will bleach and turn bright white.
These incredible creatures are at risk. Ocean acidification is degrading the physical structure of these reefs and threatening the habitat of the more than 9,000 species that live among the Great Barrier Reef. The changing ocean conditions are making it harder for these creatures to survive. Fortunately, climate change is a problem with a known solution. Take action today and urge our leaders to act on climate before it’s too late.