The Great Barrier Reef - Natural Wonders of the World

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The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,600 kilometres,600 meters) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of the seven wonders.

The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. The Great Barrier Reef supports a wide diversity of life, and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN has labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust has named it a state icon of Queensland.

A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use, such as overfishing and tourism. Other environmental pressures to the reef and its ecosystem include water quality from runoff, climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching, and cyclic outbreaks of the crown of thorns starfish. The Great Barrier Reef is a distinct physiographic province of the larger East Australian Cordillera division. It encompasses the smaller Murray Islands physiographic section.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the current, living reef structure is believed to have begun growing on the older platform about 20,000 years ago. The Australian Institute of Marine Science agrees, which places the beginning of the growth of the current reef at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum. At around that time, the sea level was 120 metres (390 feet) lower than it is today.

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area has been divided into 70 bioregions, of which 30 are reef bioregions, and 40 are non reefbioregions. In the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, ribbon reefs and deltaic reefs have formed; these structures are not found in the rest of the Great Barrier Reef system. There are no atolls in the system, and reefs attached to the mainland are rare.

Thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef, including the dwarf minke whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, and the humpback whale. Large populations of dugongs live there.

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