Despite global media coverage of the recent bleaching damage to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the experts at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) state that damage was limited to the northern tip of this massive natural wonder and thousands of square kilometres remain in top condition.
The Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's natural wonders, is a living, breathing and resilient structure which sits on a shelf, 150 metres deep – a geological feature of the north-east coast of Queensland. And it's absolutely massive! It's not something that even on a superyacht you can sail around in a day or two. At 350,000-square-kilometres, it's larger than Italy.
The most recent bleaching, due to hot air temperatures impacted the Reef north of Cook Town. The impact gradually diminishes towards Townsville, the mid-point of the Reef, while further south, there is no evidence of bleaching at all.
The charter market and tourism are the main industry in far north Queensland, and generally have a positive impact. More than two million tourists per year visit the Reef and the tourism industry is a global leader in sustainable coral reef tourism.
Leaving from Cairns, charter itineraries that take in the islands and Reef are the choice of guests whose ideal experience involves scuba diving, snorkelling, or taking to the water in submersibles to experience the profusion of coloured corals teeming with marine life in the azure waters. Guests can also see the majesty and extent of the Reef from above on a seaplane or chopper jaunt between coral cays and idyllic, deserted white-sand beaches.
Among the most popular destinations for divers are Hastings Reef, which abounds in anemones, clumps of staghorn coral, giant clams, schools of Butterfly, Angel fish and Cod, as well as brilliantly hued polyps.
Osprey Reef is a submerged atoll which covers around 195 square kilometres, with a central lagoon only 30 metres deep and boasts thriving communities of soft corals, Nautilus and various species of sharks.
To the north of Cairns and Port Douglas lie the Ribbon Reefs, a 120-kilometre string of 10 individual coral reefs, considered home to some of the best dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef.
Cathedral Reef boasts fascinating caves and pinnacles, while Opal Reef, a shallow, crescent shaped reef near the edge of the continental shelf, is renowned for its clear water and diverse marine life.
Then there's pristine Agincourt Reef on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
Scientists and researchers at AIMS, GBRMPA and James Cook University are working together with international agencies to address the natural and man-made hazards that threaten the health of the Great Barrier Reef: cyclones, water quality, climate change, coastal development and unsustainable fishing.
The work of GBRMPA and AIMS is focused on protecting the parts of the Reef that have good coral cover and the water quality around the currents that take their spawn – key to nurturing the next generation on all the reefs around it.
By far the greatest challenge long-term is climate change, according to the experts. Summers are getting hotter and hotter, more extreme than ever before, and winter too broke temperature records. Corals fare better in the natural cycle of winter and summer. In a normal cool winter, bacteria and diseases die back.
This is a global trend, affecting the entire world's coral reefs. Australia's Great Barrier Reef is no exception and it will take a worldwide effort to protect and preserve them.
Click here for more information about this incredible UNESCO Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef
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