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The Great Barrier Reef | © Benedikt Juerges/Shutterstock
The Great Barrier Reef | © Benedikt Juerges/Shutterstock
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21 Stellar Photos of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Before it Disappears

Picture of Paris Donnatella Callan
Updated: 15 November 2017
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is unarguably one of the most spectacular examples of nature in its fullest. This complex eco-system spans 2,300 kilometres of Australia’s coast and consists of the most elaborate marine life, tropical fish, 3,000 reef systems and hundreds of paradise islands. It is one of the most sought after natural tourist attractions on the planet, listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With endless adventures and activities built around this breathtaking natural eco-system, it comes as no surprise that there are stunning photos aplenty. Here are 21 of the best.

Flying overhead

Sometimes the best view is achieved from great heights, and no place is this more apparent than the Great Barrier Reef. Curious coral islands such as Heart Reef in the Whitsundays or the heavenly escape of Whitehaven Beach are at their most beautiful when seen from a bird’s eye view.

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Aerial view, the Great Barrier Reef | © Free-Photos/Pixabay
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Whitehaven Beach, the Great Barrier Reef | © By Tanya Puntti / Shutterstock

Turtles of the Great Barrier Reef

Home to six of the world’s seven marine turtles, the Great Barrier Reef is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of these timid reptiles. These friendly giants are also crucial in the wellbeing and future growth of this complex ecosystem; turtles are one of the few marine lifeforms to eat seagrass, a form of sea vegetation. This grass needs to be kept short (and is, thanks to turtle grazing) in order for other lifeforms to flourish on the sea bed.

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Green turtle, the Great Barrier Reef | © Vlad61/Shutterstock
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Giant Turtle, the Great Barrier Reef | © Michael Smith ITWP/Shutterstock
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Giant Turtle, the Great Barrier Reef | © Kyle Taylor/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/8qMei1

Sea anemones

Often mistaken for vegetation, these puzzling little pockets of colour and tentacles are in fact animals. Falling into the same family group as jellyfish and even coral reef (which is also a living creature), anemones make up an integral part of the Great Barrier Reef. Like jellyfish, their tentacles are covered in millions of tiny stings, which, should a fish come into contact with them, would be fatal. However, they are often known for their symbiotic relationship with clown fish, who can find refuge in the safety of their walls.

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Anemones found within the Great Barrier Reef | © Paul Toogood/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/bnWhuh
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Anemones, the Great Barrier Reef | © Kyle Taylor/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/8qJF4n
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Anemones, The Great Barrier Reef | © Wise Hok Wai Lum/WikiCommons

Coral

Over 600 different types of coral in various shapes, sizes and colours are found throughout the Great Barrier Reef. Coral is not only one of the Reef’s most vibrant inhabitants, but also one of the most important elements of this vast ecosystem. It can be harvested for use in modern day western medication – even for cancer treatments, and also acts as a breeding ground for nesting fish and other sea creatures. In addition, it serves as a natural water purifier for the reef by catching surplus dirt and material which may be present in the water.

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Great Barrier Reef, Eddy Reef off Mission Beach | © Paul Toogood/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/bARkuF
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Corals, The Great Barrier Reef | © Holobionics/WikiCommons

Kaleidoscopic fish

One of the main draws to the Great Barrier Reef for any curious traveller is the opportunity to see some of the world’s most beautiful fish. There is an estimated 1,500 species of fish along the reef, representing over 130 different families of fish. Covering all shapes, characters, sizes and (sometimes changing) colours, these impressive, colourful schools span 2,900 individual coral reefs across this World Heritage Site.

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The Great Barrier Reef | © Brian Kinney/Shutterstock
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Schools of fish, Great Barrier Reef | © Pete Niesen/Shutterstock
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The Great Barrier Reef | © xxun0125/Pixabay
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Schools of fish, the Great Barrier Reef | © SNORKELINGDIVES.COM/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/RqcFsx

Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most coveted action-packed adventures, drawing visitors from around the globe to this stunning natural wonder. Divers can book through a variety of tour groups, and options range from one day extravaganzas to resort-style snorkelling holidays. Remember to bring a waterproof camera; this will be an unforgettable experience.

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Snorkelling, The Great Barrier Reef | © User/WikiCommons
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia | © ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia | © ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Sundown on the reef

Sadly, as a result of years of global warming and in turn, coral bleaching (a process which occurs from the increase in water temperatures) the reef’s integrity is under severe threat.

Great Barrier Reef at sunset, Australia | © Michael Smith ITWP/Shutterstock
Great Barrier Reef at sunset, Australia | © Michael Smith ITWP/Shutterstock

Even today, its once blooming ecosystem has been subjected to a high level of pollution, with the reef’s impressive life deteriorating to the point of being labelled ‘terminal’ by some news sources.

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Sunset at Orpheus Island National Park, The Great Barrier Reef | © Janette M Anderson/WikiCommons

Hopeful for recovery, the Australian and Queensland governments launched The Reef 2050 Plan in March 2015. This action plan will oversee the implementation of safety measures and growth of the reef, so that it can return to its former glory over a 50 year period.

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Sunset, the Great Barrier Reef | © Patrick Emerson/Flickr https://flic.kr/p/5Exqnf