Australia - April 4th, 2012
Visible in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia, is the Great Barrier Reef. It is the world’s largest coral reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi).
The reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. 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 fishing and tourism. Other environmental pressures on the reef and its ecosystem include runoff, climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching, and cyclic population outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish.
Climate change, pollution, crown-of-thorns starfish and fishing are the primary threats to the health of this reef system. Other threats include shipping accidents, oil spills, and tropical cyclones. Skeletal Eroding Band, a disease of bony corals caused by the protozoan Halofolliculina corallasia, affects 31 coral species.