The Great Barrier Reef
As the largest living structure on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly rich and diverse. Stretching 2,300 kilometres, this natural icon is so large it can even be seen from outer space.
While it’s known mostly for its large maze of colourful reefs, its intricate architecture also provides a home for a huge number of plants and animals. Some of these, such as turtles and crocodiles, have been around since prehistoric times and have changed little over the millennia. The breathtaking array of marine creatures includes 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3,000 varieties of molluscs (snails, sea-slugs and squid), 500 species of worms, 1,625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.
The Great Barrier Reef is also unique as it extends over 14 degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters. Within this vast expanse are a unique range of ecological communities, habitats and species – all of which make the Reef one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- covers 344,400km2 in area
- includes the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem
- includes some 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays and about 150 inshore mangrove islands
- extends south from the northern tip of Queensland in north-eastern Australia to just north of Bundaberg
- is between 60 and 250 kilometres in width
- has an average depth of 35 metres in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2,000 metres
- was created in 1975 through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act
- extends into the airspace above and into the earth beneath the seabed
Just 25km off Brisbane’s shore is the third largest sand island in the world. Crystal-clear lakes and lagoons exist among tall sand dunes, abundant wildflowers and pristine beaches. Hand feed wild dolphins, and dive or snorkel among mysterious wrecks and pristine waters, or watch silhouettes of fishermen casting their lines in lingering twilight. The adventurous can try quad biking, four-wheel-driving or sand tobogganing.
Moreton Bay Marine Park protects a vast array of marine habitats, plants and animals. Covering more than 3400km2 of open and sheltered waterways and dotted with islands, Moreton Bay Marine Park includes some of Australia's premier wetlands. Extensive mangroves and tidal flats support and shelter fish, birds and other wildlife. Sandflats provide roosting sites for migratory birds and seagrass beds nurture fish, shellfish, dugong and turtles.
The waters of Moreton Bay, from Caloundra to the southern tip of South Stradbroke Island and extending three nautical miles seaward from Moreton Island and North and South Stradbroke islands.
On Brisbane's doorstep, the wide expanse of Moreton Bay, offshore reefs, its numerous islands, internationally significant wetlands, seagrass meadows and sandy beaches make this park a haven for wildlife and people.
Moreton Bay artificial reefs
The Queensland Government has established seven artificial reefs in Moreton Bay Marine Park, at a cost of $2.5 million. These reefs provide recreational anglers with a range of exciting fishing opportunities in the marine park.
Artificial reefs attract and sustain a wide diversity of marine life by providing protection from predators, shelter from ocean currents, breeding opportunities and a supply of rich food sources. The variety of habitats created by Moreton Bay’s artificial reefs sustain a diversity of fish species and have been designed to benefit a range of fishing techniques—including spearfishing, bottom fishing and game fishing for pelagic species.
There are 11 declared Fish Habitat Areas (FHAs) in Moreton Bay: Pumicestone Channel, Deception Bay, Kippa-Ring, Hay’s Inlet, Moreton Banks, Myora-Amity Banks, Peel Island, Jumpinpin-Broadwater, Pimpama, Coomera, Coombabah. Queensland’s first FHAs were declared in Moreton Bay in 1969. Declared FHAs protect important fish habitats like mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh and mudflats from the impacts of coastal development, while still allowing legal fishing.
The seagrass beds, mudflats and mangroves of Moreton Bay Marine Park provide food and habitat for a wide variety of marine life.
Seagrasses are flowering plants. Their closest relatives are lilies and orchids. Seagrasses need sunlight, clear water and nutrients—often obtained from nearby mangroves—to grow. The seagrasses between Russell Island and North Stradbroke Island and in southern Moreton Bay provide food and habitat for dugong, turtles, fish and crustaceans.
Mangroves provide a nursery for fish, prawns and crabs, which form the basis of an important commercial and recreational fishery. Mangrove communities act as stabilisers, helping to reduce excessive sediment flow and decreasing the threat of erosion caused by currents and stream flow. Seven species of mangroves are found in the marine park.
Dugong dugon, also known as sea cows, can grow to about 3m long and weigh up to 400kg. Adult dugong feed predominantly on seagrass and can consume 30kg per day. As they feed, whole plants are uprooted and a tell-tale feeding trail is left. The female dugong takes up to 17 years to mature and then only produces one young every five years if the conditions are suitable. Dugong are listed as a vulnerable species under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
The humpback whale is the fifth largest of the great whales. Adult females grow to 15m, slightly longer than males. A mature humpback can weigh 40t. Humpbacks are generally blackish with white underbellies and sides. They are listed as a vulnerable species under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Humpbacks mate and give birth in warmer waters. Each year the east Australian humpback whale population migrates 6000km, from their Antarctic feeding grounds, along the eastern coastline of Australia, to arrive in the lagoons of the Great Barrier Reef in about mid-June. From July, after calving, the humpbacks start to migrate south—back to the Antarctic waters. A proportion of the population stops over in Moreton Bay. Most humpbacks have left Queensland waters by early November.
Other species known to visit Moreton Bay Marine Park throughout the year include killer whales, southern right whales, sperm whales, melon-headed whales and minke whales.
Moreton Bay Marine Park has two resident dolphin species, the bottlenose dolphin and the Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin.
Bottlenose dolphins are the largest of the beaked dolphins and have a short, stout beak (sometimes described as bottle-shaped) marked with a crease where it meets the forehead. Their average size is about 3m and they feed on invertebrates, bottom-dwelling fish and squid, plus the full range of pelagic fish species. In bays they form small groups of about 15 individuals, while groups offshore may number in the hundreds. A single calf is born after a gestation period of about a year. Bottlenose dolphins have a life span of up to 45 years.
Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins are a coastal species found in tropical and subtropical waters. In Queensland they are found in Moreton Bay and its adjacent waters and in Tin Can Inlet, Great Sandy Strait. Body colour ranges from white to pinkish to grey, with some individuals being heavily spotted. They grow to a length of about 2.7m and the beak is long and cylindrical. Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins feed in shallow waters and have a varied diet of fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins are listed as rare under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
The seagrass meadows of Moreton Bay Marine Park provide a vital feeding area for marine turtles. Species commonly seen in Moreton Bay include green turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles. Leatherback turtles and flatback turtles are also irregular visitors.
Green turtles have an olive-green shell and a relatively small head compared with the size of its body. Young green turtles are carnivorous, eating tiny marine animals, yet the adults are thought to be totally herbivorous, feeding on algae, seagrass and mangrove fruits. Females take 30 to 50 years to mature and only breed every two to eight years. Green turtles are listed as vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Loggerhead turtles are listed as endangered under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. The shell is dark brown, sometimes irregularly speckled with a darker brown. They occur in coral reefs, bays and estuaries in tropical and warm temperate waters off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and New South Wales. Loggerhead turtles are carnivorous, feeding mostly on shellfish, crabs, sea urchins and jellyfish.
Hawksbill turtles occur in tidal and sub-tidal coral and rocky reef habitats through tropical waters, extending into warm temperate areas as far south as northern New South Wales. The shell is heart-shaped and olive-green to brown, richly variegated with reddish-brown, dark brown and black. Hawksbill turtles are omnivores, feeding on sponges, seagrasses, algae, soft corals and shellfish. Hawksbill turtles are listed as vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
About 32 species of migratory shorebirds including eastern curlews, grey-tailed tattlers, red-necked stints, ruddy turnstones, bar-tailed godwits and sandpipers visit Moreton Bay Marine Park each September to April.
Most of the shorebird species which visit Moreton Bay Marine Park's intertidal flats are migratory species listed under the Japan Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) or the China Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA).
Most migrate from Arctic or sub-Arctic regions at the end of the breeding season, moving to the southern hemisphere and stopping to rest before the next stage of their long journey. When feeding here, migratory shorebirds are storing energy for their return trip north to breed again.
The migratory shorebirds prefer four main habitats—muddy intertidal flats with and without seagrass, sandy flats and coral rubble on islands in the middle of the bay. Mirapool sandflat, in the south-east of Moreton Island, is considered a vital roosting and feeding site for waders, particularly eastern curlews.
Major roosting and feeding sites for shorebirds include open sandy islands and beaches (mainly on Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island), saltpans and claypans scattered in and behind the mangrove fringe, freshwater marshes and mangroves.
Originally a whaling station, Tangalooma is a resort on the west side of Moreton Island in Queensland, Australia. It lies on the eastern shore of Moreton Bay and is known for its resort accommodation, dolphin-feeding program, sand dunes and wreck diving. Swimming is popular along the white beaches. It has a population of over 300 and receives more than 3500 visitors every week as it is only about 70 minutes from Brisbane by express catamaran. Moreton Island National Park is 98% of the island, though there are three small townships there: Bulwer, Kooringal and Cowan Cowan. The adjacent waters are protected as the Moreton Bay Marine Park.
During the 1950’s, Tangalooma was the site for one of the largest whaling stations in the southern hemisphere. Today during the annual whale migration season from June to October, you can experience these gentle giants up close from purpose-built luxury catamaran. The Moreton Island Lighthouse is also a great viewpoint. To learn about the island's history, visit the Moreton Island National Park Information Centre which is located near the lighthouse in one of the old light-keeper's cottages.
The star attraction at Tangalooma is the opportunity to hand-feed the wild bottlenose dolphins that visit the beach each evening. The Tangalooma Island Resort has a licensed feeding program and is the only place in the bay where dolphin feeding is allowed. Learn all about these lovable animals from the marine biologists at the Dolphin Education Centre.
As the third largest sand island in the world, Moreton Island consists entirely of sand. It is home to the highest coastal sand dune in the world, Mount Tempest. Join a 4WD safari into the desert and take a thrilling toboggan or quad bike ride down the sand dunes.
The Tangalooma Wrecks are an amazing man-made wreck dive and snorkel site. The wrecks are not far off the beach so it is possible to swim out to them. They are also a great spot to watch the spectacular sunsets back across Moreton Bay, the mainland mountain ranges and Glass House Mountains.
Moreton Island has many walking and hiking trails ranging from short easy strolls to half-day hikes. Walking is one of the best ways to appreciate the island's environmental features and discover some of the various wildlife habitats.
Heron Island is a coral cay located near the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern Great Barrier Reef, 80km north-east of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, and 460km north-north-west of the state capital Brisbane. The island is situated on the leeward (western) side of Heron Reef, a fringing platform reef of significant biodiversity, supporting around 900 of the 1,500 fish species and 72% of the coral species found on the Great Barrier Reef.
The island is about 800 metres (2,600 feet) long and 300 metres (980 feet) at its widest, giving an area of approximately 16 hectares (40 acres).
Heron Island has notably rich soil for a tropical coral cay, particularly in the dense southern forest. This is due to the presence of tens of thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters during breeding season. These birds disturb the humus as they dig their nesting burrows, and thus prevent the formation of Jemo soil, a phosphatic hardpan topped off by raw humus. The hardpan is formed by leaching of surface- or tree-nesting seabirds' guano in the absence of burrowing animals.
Heron Island is also a major nesting site for green and Indopacific loggerhead sea turtles. Around 98% of all turtles that nest on the island are green turtles, and only 2% of them will be loggerheads. The Indopacific hawksbill sea turtle has been seen on the reef but apparently does not breed on the island. Other marine life includes the inhabitants of the coral reef, and around early October, humpback whales pass Heron Island on their migration to their summer quarters in subantarctic waters.
A notable and much-studied invertebrate of Heron Island is Cerithium moniliferum, a small marine snail. These animals will form large groups as the tide recedes. Feeding on beach rock at a specific height over the average low tide level, the snails slowly move about in their clusters, preserving the precious moisture that allows them to breathe overwater.
From October to March each year, Heron Island becomes the breeding home to hundreds of Green and Loggerhead turtles. These giants of the sea return to the island some 30 years after they hatched here, continuing the circle of life.
Heron Island has a resident population of around 4000 turtles, who live on Heron reef all year, so you can expect to see turtles in the water anytime you visit. In September, even more turtles come back to the island to mate, and nesting usually occurs with the warmer weather in November.
Lady Elliot Island
The Island lies within a Marine National Park ‘Green Zone’ and forms part of Australia’s World Heritage Listed Area on the Great Barrier Reef.
Lady Elliot Island is regarded as one of the best snorkelling and diving destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. The Island is situated within the highest protection zone of the Great Barrier Reef and is a haven for marine life including manta rays, turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and the entire cast of ‘Finding Nemo’ – over 1,200 different species of marine life can be found around the Island. From beginners to advanced snorkellers or divers, you will experience the true wonder of the Great Barrier Reef without the need for a long boat trip.
Turtles can be seen in the waters around Lady Elliot all year round and are a popular sighting with our guests. Turtles nest on Lady Elliot Island (LEI) generally from November to March.
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