One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

By Tourism Whitsundays

The World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the largest living structure. It is visible from outer space and stretches over 2000 km in length along the Queensland coast in Australia.

The Whitsundays is the perfect base to explore this aquatic wonderland. Visitors to the Great Barrier Reef can enjoy this bucket-list experience in many different ways including, day tours to the outer reef which include snorkelling and scuba diving. For those that prefer to stay dry but want to get up close and enjoy the reef views, there is an underwater viewing chamber, glass-bottom boat, and coral semi-submersible.

There is a reef experience for everyone.



A vast interplay of ecosystems and their inhabitants, the reef is home to around 600 types of hard and soft corals. Hard corals form the ‘backbone’ of the reef, providing a living home for a huge range of marine animals, from fish and molluscs to plankton and algae. The annual coral spawning is an incredible sight: think of it as an underwater snowstorm, when millions of coral release eggs and sperm into the sea to reproduce, ensuring the survival of the reef. Because of its natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations.

Credit: Brad Fisher, Ikatere Photography


The Great Barrier Reef is an intrinsic part of Australian culture, the conservation, and protection of the Reef are paramount to Tourism Whitsundays and our tourism operators.

The crews throughout the marine tourism industry in The Whitsundays play a key role in educating our visiting guests on the methods of protection as well as sharing the dos and don’ts of visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Marine tourism is vital in creating educational awareness, our operators and crews encourage guests to become ambassadors of the reef and make changes in their lives that can lead to better outcomes for this natural wonder. Everything from reducing carbon emissions, reducing chemicals that run into the waterways to making small changes around their own homes.

Our industry strives to provide an incredible experience for guests while being conscious of educating visitors to our beautiful region about how to enjoy the Reef while ensuring there is no negative impact on the environment.

As a World Heritage Area, the Great Barrier Reef is managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), responsible for the protection and monitoring of the Reef. GBRMPA directly manages activities in the Marine Park, implements plans and policies for Reef use and protection, and works with local communities and industries that depend on the Reef for recreation and livelihoods, including tourism and the ‘Eye on the Reef’ program.

Credit: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park


The Great Barrier Reef is home to a stunning array of animals, making it one of the richest and most complex natural systems on earth. The Great Barrier Reef supports:

  • 1625 species of fish, including 1400 coral reef species
  • More than 3000 species of molluscs (shells)
  • 630 species of echinoderm (starfish, sea urchins)
  • 14 breeding species of sea snakes
  • 215 species of birds including 22 species of seabirds and 32 species of shorebirds
  • Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle
  • 30 species of whales and dolphins
  • One of the world’s most important dugong populations
  • 133 species of sharks and rays
  • Only 6 percent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park consists of coral reefs the rest is made up of seagrass, mangroves, sand, algal and sponge gardens, inter-reefal communities and other habitats
  • There are 2,900 reefs, 600 continental islands, and 300 coral cats
Credit: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park


Corals have been growing in the Great Barrier Reef region for over 25 million years. However, they did not form the largest reef systems that we see today until about 6000 to 8000 years ago.

Coral reefs are formed when tiny animals called Coral Polyps extract minerals from the ocean and convert it into hard skeleton homes. When Coral Polyps die, the limestone skeleton remains. This forms the building blocks of a coral reef system. Zooxanthellae algae assist in the process. They live inside the coral’s cells and provide it with food and also its rich and vibrant colours. Coral cays are formed when coral skeletons, algae, and other reef creatures, sand and rubble are trapped by currents, wind, and waves. Over time, the environment stabilises and the coral cay is established. About one-third of the coral cays on the Great Barrier Reef support some form of vegetation.

Credit: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park