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Exploring the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef

 

Photo by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble licensed CC BY 2.0

Off the eastern coast of Australia lies one of the world’s most amazing creations, the Great Barrier Reef. The name is a little deceiving as it isn’t just one reef - it’s the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. That means that it’s made up of many coral reefs - 3,000 to be exact - which cover an area roughly half the size of Alberta!

This special place is home to some of the world’s most fascinating animals. You can learn more about them in the CBC Doc David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef on CBC-TV and online starting January 28 at 9pm. Before you tune in with your parents, brush up on some of the reef’s amazing animals.

 
 
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    ​Coral

    Wikimedia/Toby Hudson/CC BY-SA 3.0Toby Hudson/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

    Coral may look like a bumpy rock but it’s actually a sea animal that stays in one place. The corals live together in groups called colonies that can number in the thousands or even millions. The hollow body of a coral is called a polyp. It’s a stomach with a mouth at the end that’s surrounded by tentacles. Hard corals form when these polyps produce limestone skeletons. Corals are the building blocks for the reef.

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    The Mantis Shrimp

    Flickr/JesseClaggett/CC BY-NC 2.0Photo by JesseClaggett licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

    You may think you have perfect eyesight, but you’re no match for the colourful mantis shrimp which has the most advanced eyes of any species in the world. While the human eye has 3 types of colour receptors (blue, red, green), the mantis shrimp has 16! It might sound like this would be a great addition to your aquarium, but don’t rush out to try and get one just yet. One species, the peacock mantis shrimp, uses its hammer-like claws to smash objects just like the Hulk, and has even been known to smash through aquarium glass!

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    ​The Clownfish

    close-up of clown fishPhoto by Teddy Hartanto licensed CC BY 2.0

    Clownfish are the only fish known to be able to safely live among the stinging tentacles of the anemone. That’s because the clownfish excrete a mucus over their skin that tricks the anemone into believing that it’s actually touching itself, so it doesn’t sting. The two have a great relationship - the stinging tentacles provide the clownfish with protection from predators while the fish eat parasites and chase away the butterfly fish that like to munch on anemones.

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    ​The Tiger Shark

    Wikimedia/Pterantual/CC BY-SA 3.0Pterantual/WikimediaCC/ BY-SA 3.0

    One of the largest sharks in the world makes the reef its home. The tiger shark, named because of the vertical stripes on its body, can reach between 4-8 metres in length. It’s not a very picky eater and has been known to eat fish, turtles, and other marine mammals. They’re nicknamed the “dustbins of the sea” since they’ll even eat junk that’s been thrown into the sea like car tires.

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    ​The Green Turtle

    Green turtle swimming in OceanPhoto by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble licensed CC BY 2.0

    The majestic green turtle is the predominant turtle species in the reef. Starting life as an egg on the beach, the hatchlings move to the open ocean where they can grow into mature turtles over 1 metre long and weigh up to 300kg. Although a mature female green turtle will lay around 120 eggs every 2-4 years, only one in a thousand hatchlings will grow up as there are many predators both on the beach and in the sea.

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    ​The Manta Ray

    Flickr/Jurriaan Persyn/CC BY-NC 2.0Photo by Jurriaan Persyn licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

    Up to 800 manta rays visit the reef of Lady Elliot Island every year. These huge disc-shaped creatures can measure 5 metres across and weigh almost 1.5 tonnes. That’s just a bit more than the weight of a beluga whale! They’re a very clean animal and regularly visit “cleaning stations” where fish pick parasites off their bodies. If there’s a line-up that’s not a problem, they will wait patiently for their chance to get a good cleaning.

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    ​The Dwarf Minke Whale

    Photo by muzzanese licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

    There’s a very friendly species of whale that visits the northern Great Barrier Reef each winter. The dwarf minke whale (say " ming-ky”) is one of the smaller whales you’ll find in the wild, but although it only grows up to about 8 metres long it still weighs several tonnes. These whales behave more like dolphins and like to perform water acrobatics. There’s a good chance that you can see one of these whales as they’re very inquisitive and often approach and interact with boats and divers

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    ​The Epaulette Shark

    ojPhoto by City.and.Color licensed CC BY 2.0
    The small epaulette shark isn’t like any other shark you’ve ever seen. This amazing little guy can survive out of the water, without oxygen, for extended periods of time. In fact, it can survive without oxygen 60 times longer than a human can! It also has a very unique body that allows it to “walk” by wriggling its body and pushing with its broad, paddle-shaped fins when it’s out of the water. This way it can get between rock pools to hunt for trapped prey.