Obviously the coral is a fabulous attraction. The size, shape and colour of the Reef have enough variety and stunning beauty to keep tourists enthralled and challenged for days. But the Reef has so much more to offer. It’s not called the underwater Eden for nothing. The colours are so unusual, they have been described as colours artists have not yet even dreamed about.
Then there are the many creatures which live on or swim in and around the Reef. There are between 1500 and 2000 species of fish found in the waters of the Reef. And it’s not just the fabulous variety of these marine creatures but also their density and availability. There are places on the Reef where within one hectare you can find some 200 different species of fish. Here are a few of the fascinating sights.
The damselfish averages only about 10cms in length but they often swim in schools. It’s fascinating to watch their ‘synchronized swimming’ as a school of damselfish change direction as one and dive into the coral. If they think you are too close to their eggs you may even feel a slight pinch as they bite the diver to warn them off.
The butterfly fish are renowned for their gorgeous colours and patterns and are often seen on films and video clips as a teaser of the delights around the Reef. They mate for life and a pair of butterfly fish is a sight to remember as they nibble on the coral.
The nudibranch is a snail without a shell. It has colours to take your breath away and its poisonous pouch helps it catch prey without adding toxins to the sea. The dazzling colours serve to warn off predators. They are amazing. The sea anemone is a collection of willowy tentacles with brilliant colours. It feeds on plankton then joins with others of its species for protection at night. Baby anemone can swim up to five times faster the fastest Olympic swimmer.
The crown-of-thorns sea star is a poisonous creature which looks menacing and is menacing because many believe it can kill the coral. The fiercesome appearance is an intriguing sight. Some believe over-fishing has caused the spread of the crown-of-thorn because many fish can and did feed on the infants. Whatever the case this creature is a serious concern for the future of the Reef.
Hard corals are tiny creatures which grow on dead coral. They join together and form fascinating coral shapes in the form of large plates, domes and branches. The Reef is teeming with fascinating sights. The coral itself comes in some 400 species. The Reef is nothing if not varied. Coral spawn only a few times a year releasing their eggs and sperm into the water.
Larger marine creatures live in the waters of the Reef. Black marlin, dolphins and whales are regular visitors to these temperate waters. The dugong, those wonderful 3 metre long mammals who are more closely related to elephants and who graze on sea grasses, are alive and well in the shallow waters of the Reef.
Birds thrive on the Reef. More than 200 species of birds including 40 species of sea birds live on the Reef. Raine Island is a major rookery with almost 20 species of birds nesting there. The white-breasted sea eagle is a wondrous sight snatching fish as the marine animals swim close to the surface. The small Roseate tern lives on the Reef and also in Japan hopping each year between its two homes.
Sea turtles and sea snakes call the Reef home. Six of the seven species of sea turtles live on the Reef. Eggs are laid in the sand before the current carries the hatchlings out to sea and far, far from the Reef. When sexually mature, some 30 years later, the turtles return even thousands of kilometres to the same area where they were hatched to lay their own eggs. It’s a wonderful cycle in a wonderful place.
Sea snakes are believed to have evolved more than 100 million years ago and their ancestors today live on the Reef. They are good at holding their breath being able to swim underwater for up to two hours at a time.