Biodiversity

The Great Barrier Reef is internationally recognised for its outstanding biodiversity. The World Heritage status of the Reef recognises its great diversity of species and habitats. Conserving the Reef's biodiversity is not just desirable - it is essential. By protecting biodiversity, we are protecting our future and our children's future.

Imagine the Reef with fewer species, with no variety, it would be a vastly different place, unable to sustain all that it does today. 

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the variety of life on Earth at all its levels from genes to ecosystems, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that sustain it.

It encompasses all living things, from microbes and single cell algae to marine turtles and whales, and their habitats. Importantly, it is not just a measure of how many species there are. Rather, it encompasses all natural variation - from genetic differences within one species to variations across a habitat or a whole ecosystem.

The Great Barrier Reef relies on its biodiversity, from the animals, plants and algae to the micro-organisms too small for the eye to see.

It is this biodiversity that builds such a remarkable ecosystem, as well as supporting
human use of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef's biodiversity

The variety of life along the Reef's vast expanse is immense. The Reef's extraordinary biodiversity and the interconnectedness of species and habitats make the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding areas one of the most complex natural systems on Earth.

Maintaining a healthy and diverse Great Barrier Reef ecosystem is important so it is better able to withstand, recover and adapt to impacts and stress. A productive and healthy Reef environment provides essential resources such as fish and prawns and supports many industries.

The Great Barrier Reef:

  • is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, extending over 14º of latitudinal range
  • includes over 2900 separate coral reefs
  • includes deep water features of the adjoining continental shelf including canyons, channels, plateaux and slopes
  • is made up of 70 'bioregions' (broad-scale habitats) comprising 30 reef bioregions and 40 non-reefal bioregions
  • has over 2000km² of mangroves, with species representing 54 per cent of the world's mangrove diversity
  • has about 6,000km² of seagrass beds
  • includes about 900 islands ranging from small coral cays to large continental islands
In addition a wide array of animals rely on the Reef, including one of the world's most important dugong populations and six of the world's seven species of marine turtle. Over 1500 species of fish swim among more than 350 species of hard coral. Lesser known species like molluscs, sponges, marine algae, soft coral and sea pens are just some of the many that call the Great Barrier Reef home.

Managing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's biodiversity

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) uses a suite of management tools to look after the Reef's biodiversity. These range from legislation, zoning plans and permits to research, partnerships and education and compliance.

The Reef's vast size and complexity means that a collaborative approach is one of the most important considerations for the long-term management of biodiversity. Any one organisation working in isolation cannot achieve what is necessary to protect the Reef's biodiversity. The GBRMPA is not the sole provider of services to manage and conserve biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef and many other government agencies, stakeholders and community members play a crucial role.

The Great Barrier Reef Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2013 provides a framework for how the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef will be managed. It provides a 'roadmap' for management actions for the GBRMPA, and all other stakeholders who have a role in managing the Reef and maintaining its biodiversity.