marine animals (abundance, diversity, colour, size); blue holes; lagoon floors; mangroves; seagrass meadows; shoals; cliffs and rocky shores; bays; estuaries; rainforest; birds; and butterflies.33 The experiential attributes of the Region that enhance aesthetic value were identified as: beauty, naturalness, tranquillity, solitude, remoteness, discovery and inspiration.33 The aesthetic values of the Great Barrier Reef are experienced and described from a variety of perspectives: • Panoramic: the Great Barrier Reef from above, including remotely from space, from the air or high lookout points. This perspective shows the Reef as a pattern of waters, reefs, cays and islands, and as a vast landscape. • At water or land level: the Great Barrier Reef at eye level, as sky, water, and land emerging from water, and with a sense of a world beneath the water. • Below water: the Great Barrier Reef as an underwater landscape. The three-dimensional qualities of the underwater landscape, its relative intimacy (with long-distance views rarely experienced), and the position of the viewer ‘floating’ above and within the landscape are all distinctive. The aesthetic experience is also enhanced because this perspective is not part of everyday human experience.33 For the early European visitors to the Reef, its natural beauty was appreciated at the water or land level, with an emphasis on the vistas of bays and islands and what could be seen through the water. An example is Matthew Flinders during his voyage on the Investigator in 1802. As an early European explorer, Flinders knew little of the Reef, other than its potential perils, and was focused on mapping its navigational hazards.34 Nonetheless he was struck by its underwater beauty: “We had wheat sheaves, mushrooms, stags horns, cabbage leaves and a variety of other forms, glowing under water with vivid tints of every shade betwixt green, purple, brown and white; equalling in beauty and excelling in grandeur the most favourite parterre [ornamental garden] of the curious florist.” 35 Over the subsequent centuries, changes in how people access the Reef and developments in underwater technology (for example glass-bottomed boats, underwater observatories, snorkelling, scuba diving, underwater cameras) have changed the ways in which people experience the Reef and appreciate its aesthetic values (Figure 4.3). From images featuring land-based aesthetic experiences, the emphasis has shifted to include its underwater beauty. Being able to view the Reef from the air has also changed peoples’ understanding of its size and beauty. The Region’s natural beauty is generally intact, especially for offshore coral reefs and aerial vistas, as well as for neighbouring islands (many of which are national parks). However, increasing human infrastructure along the coastline and on islands, and increased shipping traffic have affected some of the values that contribute to the Region’s aesthetic values, for example its natural coastal vistas and tranquillity. In addition, marine debris has diminished aesthetics in some areas.37 Water clarity is one of the Reef’s features most valued by visitors.37 It is affected by increased turbidity from sediment and nutrients from land-based run-off and the resuspension of dredge material. Declining coral cover in the southern twothirds of the Region has reduced underwater aesthetic values.
The Region continues to have great natural beauty; underwater aesthetic values have declined.
Developments in underwater technology have made it easier to visit and appreciate the Reef environment
© Chris Jones