As the world’s biggest coral reef system and the largest single structure consisting solely of living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef is a spectacular cornucopia of colourful wildlife, where thousands of different species of fish, reptiles, mammals, birds, molluscs and coral exist in harmony. Located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef has received a lot of attention in the media over recent years, due to the detrimental effects of pollution on this magnificent natural landmark. These environmental issues have started a chain reaction, forcing people into taking steps to protect the array of incredible flora and fauna that calls the reef home. This blog will take a look some of the fascinating animal species that currently inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, so readers can attempt to spot them on their next Australia or South Pacific cruise.
A wide range of aquatic mammals can be found in the Great Barrier Reef, including 30 different species of whales and dolphins, such as spinner dolphins and even majestic humpback whales. One of the lesser known species of marine mammal that calls this underwater wonderland their home is the dugong. The dugong is one of only four living species of the Sirenia order, a family which also contains the manatee. Sometimes referred to as the ‘sea cow’, this gentle herbivore feeds mainly on sea-grass, but has been known to occasionally eat invertebrates such as sea squirts and jellyfish. Interestingly, the dugong is more closely related to the elephant then other underwater mammals, which makes it a particularly unique and intriguing species.
Perhaps one of the most famous residents of the Great Barrier Reef, the Clownfish shot to fame after the 2003 Disney movie ‘Finding Nemo’ was released. This colourful creature, also known as the Amphiprioninae, is actually made up of 30 different species, most of which fall within the Amphiprion genus. Relatively small in size, the Clownfish has been known to grow to lengths of around 7 inches at their largest and 4 inches at their smallest, living in a mutually beneficial relationship with the sea anemone, in which they can hide from predators. As an omnivorous fish, they will feed on tiny zooplankton and algae as well as the undigested food of their chosen anemone. Amazingly, Clownfish are classified as protandrous hermaphrodites, which means that they will alternate between male and female over their lifespan.
Only seven types of marine turtle exist anywhere in the world, six of which occupy the Great Barrier Reef. The species found off the coast of Australia include the leatherback, flatback, loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley and green turtle, all of which of are recognised as vulnerable or endangered species. Marine turtles can live for decades before they even reach maturity, feeding on both plants and animals such as soft coral, shrimp and squid, which gives an idea of the vast lifespan of this ancient animal. These astonishing omnivores play a vital role in their ecosystems by eating large portions of sea grass which actually allows the plant to grow back stronger, and laying their eggs on beaches and dunes, which provides vital nutrients for an abundance of plant life.
Over 1500 different species of fish live within the Great Barrier Reef, each with their own distinctive features and behaviours. Perhaps the ugliest and most dangerous however is the stonefish, or synanceia. The stonefish is one of the most venomous fish in the world, as their bite is especially hazardous and even fatal to humans, so getting up close and personal to them is not recommended. Many cases of stonefish bites in Australia have been reported over the years, including one fatality, which was the result of a lack of treatment. This perilous fish is also a master of disguise, using camouflage to perfectly blend in to its surroundings, before lunging at it prey, which is often fish or crustaceans, with lightening speed. The stonefish is so fast, in fact, it take a special high-speed camera to capture its feeding process in the wild.
Sea sponges are one of the most unique species in the Great Barrier Reef, if not the entire world. They lack most of the basic parts that make up the majority of animals, including organs and tissue. Sponges are multi-cellular organism with bodies filled with pores, allowing sea water to pass straight through them, which is how they acquire their nutrients and oxygen and dispose of waste. Several species of sponges have been classified as carnivorous, but very little is known about how they actually snare their prey. These fascinating creatures also possess one remarkable quality that has allowed them to survive and flourish despite adverse conditions; the ability to regenerate. This unbelievable trait means that even if a sponge was put through a blender, you could pour it out and watch it restore itself before your eyes.
The animals described above are just a drop in the ocean when compared to the countless species that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef. Over 1500 species of fish, 360 types of coral, 600 kinds of echinoderms and 5000 species of molluscs alongside a profusion of reptiles, mammals and birds have prospered in this marine environment, which covers over 100,000 square miles. For this reason, it is of vital importance that the Great Barrier Reef is protected in the future and appreciated in the present.
Image Credits :
(1) Julien Willem – wikipedia.org
(2) Ritiks – wikipedia.org
(3) Brocken Inaglory – wikipedia.org
(4) SeanMack -wikipedia.org
(5) Twilight Zone Expedition Team, 2007 – wikimedia.org