The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
CNN labeled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland. The land that formed the substrate of the current Great Barrier Reef was a coastal plain formed from the eroded sediments of the Great Dividing Range with some larger hills.
The Reef Research Centre, a Cooperative Research Centre, has found coral ‘skeleton’ deposits that date back half a million years. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority considers the earliest evidence of complete reef structures to have been 600,000 years ago.
According to the GBRMPA, the current, living reef structure is believed to have begun growing on the older platform about 20,000 years ago. The Australian Institute of Marine Science agrees, placing the beginning of the growth of the current reef at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum.
At around that time, sea level was 120 metres (390 ft) lower than it is today. The Great Barrier Reef has long been known to and used by the Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aboriginal Australians have been living in the area for at least 40,000 years, and Torres Strait Islanders since about 10,000 years ago.
The Great Barrier Reef is an extremely ancient, enormous host of living things, composed of living coral growing on dead coral dating back perhaps as much as twenty million years.
Many generations of dead coral have built themselves into great walls of stone covered in a diverse range of living organisms such as coral, algae, anemones, sponges, fish, worms, starfish, turtles, molluscs, snakes, crustaceans, and an extraordinary array of thousands of species of plants and animals.
It is now widely believed that the east coast of Australia was first sighted around 1522 by a Portuguese expedition, probably led by Cristovao de Mendonca. Willem Jansz in the Duyfken in about March 1606 charted the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, starting forty years of maritime exploration in Australian waters by the Dutch.
Later Luis de Torres sighted the islands of Torres Strait while sailing from east to west along the southern coast of Papua. Although there is no direct physical evidence, first human contact with the reef must’ve occurred for some time.
We know that Aboriginal people occupied great parts of the Australian continent for around 40,000 years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have fished and hunted its waters and navigated between the islands of the reef region.
There have been written accounts of the Great Barrier Reefs by those who ever saw it. But the earliest documentary evidences are by the French settlers who lead their ships La Boudeuse and L’Etoile on 6th June 1768.
But the exciting part in the discovery of Great Barrier Reef was when James Cook and his team sailed the whole length of the reef from May to Aug 1770. When the ship struck Endeavour Reef, north of Cape Tribulation, and they were forced to repair their ship for six weeks that they were able to observe the Great Barrier Reef.