The Great Coral Reef, situated in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is the most massive living structure on the planet extending for over 2300 kilometres.
It is believed to provide habitat to nearly 9000 marine life species found in Queensland. Each of the organisms contributes their bit to the stable and healthy coral reef ecosystem. The fact that it is visible even from the space speaks volume of its vastness and magnificence. There are several tours available for those who wish to travel to The Great Coral Reef from Brisbane or Gold Coast.
Composed of 2500 individual reefs and 900 islands, the reef extends from the Northern tip of Queensland to south of Gladstone. The Great Barrier Reef is home to countless corals and other marine life.
The Biodiversity of the Coral reef Ecosystem:
Ecosystem principally refers to the numerous species interacting with each other and the physical environment.
To understand the most substantial diversity of life on the planet, let’s begin by knowing the two ways of describing it – the species diversity and the functional diversity.
Species diversity refers to the number and variety of biological species inhabiting it. Home to more than 9000 marine life species, excluding the microorganisms, planktons and fungi, the ecosystem has existed for around 6000 to 9000 years. However, many of the creatures it shelters have even lived for millions of years.
Employing a different perspective, the biodiversity of the Great Coral Reef can be explained by the role played by each of the organism and animal. Each species thriving on the reef has its function to perform to support and balance the ecosystem which explains its fragility and vulnerability. 40% of the multiple roles played by fish in the ecosystem are by a single species. Much alarmingly, a threat to this specialist variety of fish, one of whose essential jobs is to clear off the plankton, would pose a threat to the resilience and robustness of the otherwise stable biological arrangement.
Quick facts about the ecosystem:
- Sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins inhabiting the reef are capable of devastating the reefs leaving behind only the calcium carbonate skeletons. Crown of thorns sea star may eat up the reef rendering it dead and eliminating the variety of game fish along with the deep sea fish populations. This would inevitably break the much-crucial food chain.
- Reefs are home to a variety of molluscs, marine snails, squids, clams, scallops and nudibranchs, all of which live on or near the reef. Giant clams are known to reach a length upto 4 feet (1.2 metres). The predator snails are carnivorous and capable of drilling holes into these shelled animals.
- Some quintessential residents of the reef ecosystem like solitary and schoolingfish, act as both predators and prey. Other reef inhabitants thrive on the nutrients provided by the leftover food scraps and wastes.
- Several species of the porous sponges dwell on the reefs. Appearing in a spectrum of shapes and colours, sponges provide a home to fish, shrimps, crabs, and other tiny animals.
- Reef anemones, such as Indo- Pacific ones, are known to bear the so-called symbiotic association with clownfish and anemone fish. While anemone’s tentacles are supposed to provide shelter for these fish and their eggs, anemone fish guard the anemone against predators such as butterflyfishes.
The diverse marine life is subject to risks with the spiking commercial activities. Hence, it’s imperative to keep the human interference to the minimum and conserve this precious asset forever.