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See the fact file below for more information on Great Barrier Reef or alternatively, you can download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
What is the Great Barrier Reef?
- The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world.
- A coral reef forms when large groups of coral polyps grow together in a colony.
- Coral polyps are tiny marine animals related to the sea anemone and the jellyfish that live in oceans all over the world.
- A barrier reef is a coral reef running parallel to the shore but separated by a large lagoon, hence the word barrier.
- The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms.
- The Great Barrier Reef is composed of more than 900 islands and over 2,900 individual reefs.
- The Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 1,400 mi (2,300 km) over an area of approximately 133,000 sq mi (344,400 sq km).
|Type of Reef||Description|
|Fringing Reefs||Grows directly from the shoreline and has a very shallow, or non-existent, backreef zone.|
|Lagoonal Reefs||Held together by coral, and are sometimes called the “rainforests of the sea”.|
|Crescentic Reefs||Crescent-shaped reefs with and open-back reef area.|
|Planar Reefs||Flat reefs; found in the Northern and Southern parts of the reef.|
Where is the Great Barrier Reef?
- The Great Barrier Reef is located off the east coast of Australia.
- It is in the Coral Sea and is separated from the coast of Queensland, Australia, by a channel about 100 miles wide up to 200 feet deep.
When and How was the Great Barrier Reef Formed?
- Around 24 million years ago, the tropical conditions around Queensland became ideal for coral to grow.
- The Great Barrier Reef was formed as a result of coral reef growth in the Coral Sea Basin.
- The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimates that the oldest and most complete reef structures presented around 600,000 years ago.
- As the sea levels have risen over the years, so too have the coral reefs. Some small islands also became submerged, which provided optimal spaces for coral to grow over.
The Great Barrier Reef Ecology
- The Great Barrier Reef supports a wide variety of plant and marine animal life.
- There are several species of endangered plants and animals that rely on the nutrients and protection of The Great Barrier Reef to continue to survive.
- Saltwater crocodiles live in areas surrounding the reef, as well as 30 species of dolphins and porpoises.
- More than 1,500 fish species live in and among the reef.
- The Great Barrier Reef is also home to 17 species of sea snakes.
- Six species of sea turtles come to this reef to breed. These are the green sea turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead sea turtle, and the flatback turtle.
- The Olive Ridley sea turtle also calls The Great Barrier Reef home. This turtle is special because it is one of the smallest sea turtles. It has a heart-shaped shell that is olive green in color.
- Other species found in and around the reef include:
- On the northern and southern regions of the reef, 1.4-1.7 million birds go to breed each year.
- The islands of The Great Barrier Reef are home to more than two thousand species of plants.
- The northern islands tend to have more woody plants, while the south has more herbaceous plants.
Environmental Impact and Climate Change
- Some of the threats facing The Great Barrier Reef include:
- Climate change because as global warming continues, corals are not able to keep up with increasing ocean temperatures.
- Fishing because this impacts the reef through increased water pollution from boats and fishermen.
- Accidental oil spills into the water, which causes extensive damage to the reef.
- Shipping because accidents have left over 1,600 known shipwrecks in the Great Barrier Reef region.
- Farming because fertilizer runoff creates disturbances in the water chemistry and too much algae grows.
- Ocean warming causes coral bleaching, which is when coral expels the algae that live inside them. This is caused when the water temperature becomes too warm.
- Algae provides the coral with 90% of its nutrients, so when it is expelled, the coral begins to starve and will usually begin to die.
- Between 2014 and 2016, the longest global bleaching occurred, which removed 29-50% of The Great Barrier Reef’s coral.
- Bleaching can be triggered by many events, including
- Oxygen starvation
- Increased sunlight
- Bacterial infections
- Changes to the salinity of the water
- During tropical events, such as a cyclone, the rivers and bodies of water around the reef flood and pollute the reef.
- Farming fertilizer runoff can also seep into the water and pollute the reef by releasing harmful chemicals.
Tourism, Fishing, and Hunting
- The Great Barrier Reef is a very popular tourist destination.
- Over two million people visit The Great Barrier Reef each year, generating billions of dollars in income.
- Visits are mostly managed in partnership with the Marine Tourism industry to protect the area.
- The Great Barrier Reef offers warm, clear waters and biological diversity and is easily accessed from hundreds of miles of coastline.
- It resembles a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers because of the huge variety of corals and sea creatures.
- Tourism is concentrated in Cairns and The Whitsundays, although many cities along the Queensland coast offer a variety of boat tours and cruises.
- As of 1996, 27 islands on The Great Barrier Reef also supported resorts.
- Tourism, however, brings its own challenges/problems to the area.
- “Platforms,” which are large, ship-like vessels that act as hotels/bases for tourists while snorkeling and scuba diving in The Great Barrier Reef, are a major cause for concern because seabirds land on the platforms and defecate. When this washes into the sea, it introduces diseases to the reefs.
- Areas without tourism platforms have a very low percentage of diseased corals, while areas with tourism platforms have large percentages of diseased corals. Solutions are being investigated.
- Tourism operators are all required to adhere to speed limits when traveling to or from tourist destinations to prevent boats from disturbing the fragile reef ecosystem.
- Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef is strictly controlled by the Queensland Government.
- Hunting of turtles is also limited and controlled.
Did You Know?
- The Great Barrier Reef is so huge it can be seen from outer space.
- The Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
- CNN labeled The Great Barrier Reef as one of the seven natural wonders of the world in 1997.
- Australian World Heritage places included The Great Barrier Reef in its list in 2007.
- The Queensland National Trust named The Great Barrier Reef a state icon of Queensland in 2006.
Great Barrier Reef Worksheets
This bundle includes 11 ready-to-use Great Barrier Reef worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about The Great Barrier Reef which is the largest coral reef system in the world. It is located off the coast of Queensland in Australia.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- Great Barrier Reef Facts.
- The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.
- True or False?
- Saving the Great Barrier Reef.
- Picture Labelling.
- Newspaper Article.
- Great Barrier Reef Wordsearch.
- Scavenger Hunt.
- Types of Fish.
- Opinion Paragraph.
- Great Barrier Reef Crossword.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is The Great Barrier Reef made of?
The Great Barrier Reef is made of over three thousand reefs of coral.
What creatures live in The Great Barrier Reef?
There are many creatures living in The Great Barrier Reef, including dolphins, sharks, turtles, snakes, and even worms.
Is coral alive?
Yes, coral is alive. Corals are formed by tiny creatures called polyps that grow in colonies to form coral reefs.
What color are coral reefs?
Coral reefs are made up of thousands of coral polyps which feed off of algae which gives the corals their colors. Corals are more often shades of brown but can also be beautiful shades of green, red or blue. Coral can become white when stressed.
Are there different types of coral in The Great Barrier Reef?
There are a multitude of different kinds of coral on The Great Barrier Reef. There is a variety of both hard corals and soft corals in a variety of colors.
How big is The Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef is very, very big, about the same area as Italy or Japan.
What is the biggest fish in the Great Barrier Reef?
The biggest of all The Great Barrier Reef fish is the whale shark, which grows up to 12m long.
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.