Category Archives: Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia is located in a semitropical region on the northeastern side of the continent. A major claim to fame here is the Great Barrier Reef which lies only a few kilometers off shore.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the single largest structure on the planet made by living things.
The organisms that make up the reef are some of the smallest living things – coral polyps and photosynthetic algae. The GBR consists of several thousand separate reefs and about nine hundred islands. It extends as an arc some 2300 kilometers along the east and northeast coast of Australia and north towards Papua New Guinea in the Coral Sea.

bob in the Coral Sea

bob in the Coral Sea

Because of the enormous value of tourism to the region, much is done by governments to protect this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Diving and snorkeling in and around the reefs is a big tourist industry but those doing so are not permitted to touch, much less damage the coral. If a ship wants to “park” in the vicinity of the reef, they can only do so by attaching to an established mooring spot rather than dropping an anchor.

starfish

starfish

Although the reef is generally protected from direct human depredation, global warming is taking a toll. Coral reefs are suffering “bleaching.” This is a phenomena where the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, abandon the coral due to warming or more acidic ocean waters, both of which are due to global warming. Without the symbionts, the coral polyps die off and the result is colorless, dead reef.

Equally interesting onshore is another World Heritage site, the Daintree National Park. It is an ancient rainforest (annual rainfall around 110 inches.) A variety of plants found in this rainforest trace their ancestry to the earliest land plants. Primitive tree ferns, giant cycads, and the earliest angiosperms (flowering plants) exist here essentially unchanged from the Cretaceous era, the age of the dinosaurs.

The park is drained by the Daintree river, named after an early explorer of the area. The water is brackish for several miles upstream of its mouth on the coral sea and is home to the salt water crocodile. These ancient reptiles can get to over 23 feet long and weigh in at over a ton. They are the world’s largest living reptiles. dsc00808

Also among the largest animals in this forest is the endangered Cassowary, a six foot tall flightless bird. The males at four feet tall are smaller than the females. They take on the job of brooding the eggs and caring for the chicks.

Cassowary

Cassowary

The proximity of the off-shore reef and inland rainforest make this area an unrivaled tourist destination, attracting an international clientele. Because of the semitropical climate, there is little seasonal variation in weather. All in all it is a wonderful site for a south Pacific vacation. Next up the Australian Outback. Stay tuned.