Off the eastern coast of Australia in the Coral Sea, and stretching across 1,400 miles (2,300 km), the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system.
Composed of 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs, it is a living organism made of coral polyps.
Formed by a combination of plate tectonics, volcano flows, and warm tropical waters about 600,000 years ago, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) hosts a marine wilderness of 133,000 square miles (344,400 sq. km.).
It has 1,500 species of fish; 30 species of whales, dolphins, porpoises; 6 species of turtles; 125 species of sharks/stingrays; 5,000 species of mollusks including one of my favorites, the giant clam. More info here.
215 species of birds live and/or nest on reef islands, and the list goes on and on.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Australian government work tirelessly to preserve this fragile marine system, starting in 1975 with the prohibition of oil drilling. Thorough and complex management and laws are enforced in the water and adjacent land.
It is therefore necessary to hire a boat, and boats are highly regulated for protection reasons. Australians are proud and protective of their reef, and accommodating to tourists as well.
But all of this slips from your mind the moment you submerge. It’s no longer a country with a government, or a geological phenomenon. It is paradise.
Parrot fish munching, crunching on coral, a wrasse the size of a boogie board floating by, thick schools of fish in stunning colors, the biggest variety of coral I’ve ever seen.
Fish are swimming by, the water constantly lapping, anemone swaying–everything is moving. Except one.
The giant clam resides here, the largest living bivalve mollusk, a rare and threatened species.
Weighing up to 440 pounds (200 k) with an average lifespan of 100 years, they stay put. They cultivate their own algae, open up the shell to extend their tissue into the sunlight to photosynthesize.
I swam all around, observing and delighting in the brilliant colors and unusual shapes, but then I would always find myself returning to the giant clam.
That big old clam, so solid and still, seemed to have all the answers.
Photo credit: Calypso Reef Cruises unless otherwise noted