Posted by Lina Cronin on 18 September 2018 | Comments


Coral reefs are some of our world’s most precious ecosystems. From the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Red Sea Coral Reef in Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia and everything in between, coral reefs have long provided both employment and enjoyment for many people around the globe.

Map: Coral Reefs around the world / IYORMap: Coral Reefs around the world / IYOR

This year, as designated by the International Coral Reef Initiative, the world is celebrating the 3rd International Year of the Reef, which aims to:

  • Strengthen awareness globally about the value of, and threats to, coral reefs and their associated ecosystems;
  • Promote partnerships between Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society on the management of coral reefs;
  • Identify and implement effective management strategies for conservation, increased resiliency and sustainable use of these ecosystems and promoting best practices; and
  • Share information on best practices in relation to sustainable coral reef management.

Photo: A school of Barracuda in Maratua, Indonesia / Yen-Yi Lee

Photo: A school of Barracuda in Maratua, Indonesia / Yen-Yi Lee

At Ecotourism Australia, we thought we’d take this opportunity – particularly in our lead up to our Global Eco Conference being held in Townsville, North Queensland, from November 26-28 – to shine the spotlight on our certified tour operators and accommodations located on, or near, one of our reefs. These businesses are doing amazing things to protect their local environment, educate their guests and contribute to the conservation of our reefs, and we can’t wait to show them off!

Great Barrier Reef

Photo: Challenger Reef, Australia / Jayne Jenkins

In the meantime, we thought we’d give you a few facts you may not know about coral reefs:

Reef Facts

  • Coral reefs are the largest living structure on the planet, and the only living structure to be visible from space
  • Coral reefs have evolved on earth over the past 200 to 300 million years
  • Corals are invertebrates belonging to a large group of colourful and fascinating animals called Cnidarians. Other animals in this group include jellyfish and sea anemones.
  • Corals are generally classified as either “hard” or “soft”. There are around 800 known species of hard coral alone.
  • Coral reefs are part of a much larger ecosystem that also includes mangroves and seagrass beds.
  • Baby corals look like little tiny jellyfish and float around near the surface at first, and then in the water column until they find a suitable space to call home – usually a hard surface to attach to.
  • There are lots of different shapes of coral, including:
    • Branching corals, which have primary and secondary branches.
    • Sub-massive corals, which look like fingers or clumps and have no secondary branches.
    • Table corals, which form table-like structures and often have fused branches.  
    • Foliose corals, which have broad plate-like portions rising in whorl-like patterns.
    • Encrusting corals. which grow as a thin layer against a substrate.
    • Massive corals, which are ball-shaped or boulder-like and may be as small as an egg or as large as a house.
    • Mushroom corals, which resemble the unattached tops of mushrooms.
  • Coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea, both due to the vast amount of species they harbour, and to the high productivity they yield.
  • Covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, reefs support an estimated 25% of all marine life, with over 4,000 species of fish alone.
  • Coral reefs and related ecosystems have a global estimated value of $2.7 trillion per year, or 2.2% of all global ecosystem service values, which includes tourism and food.
  • Coral reefs reduce shoreline erosion by absorbing energy from the waves: they can protect coastal housing, agricultural land, and beaches.
  • Reefs are home to species that contain pharmaceutical compounds that have the potential for treatments for some of the world’s most prevalent and dangerous illnesses and diseases.

Photo: Challenger Reef, Australia / Jayne Jenkins

Photo: Challenger Reef, Australia / Jayne Jenkins

For more information about coral reefs, check out these great resources:

International Year of the Reef 2018 official website

International Coral Reef Initiative website

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’s International Year of the Reef website


[All images sourced from the International Year of the Reef image gallery, unless otherwise stated.]

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