Skip Navigation LinksReefBase > Global Database
          RSS Feed
Resources - Overview

Region     Country
Search Show Tips

Search Result: 1 records

1 . Australia     Australia
Australia is an island continent with an extensive tropical coastline. Its western shores mark the southeastern margins of the Indian Ocean while, to the east, it provides the southwestern boundary of the Pacific Ocean. Between these two is a complex, poorly known, northern coastline which runs close to southern Indonesia, separated by the Timor Sea to the west and the Arafura Sea to the east.

After Indonesia, Australia has the largest area of coral reefs of any nation, nearly 50 000 square kilometers, or some 19 percent of the world’s total area of reefs. Conditions for reef development vary considerably along the coastline. In the far west the climate is dry and there is little terrestrial runoff. Reef development is not continuous, though away from loose coastal sediments there are important areas, including Australia’s best developed fringing reefs. The southward flowing Leeuwin Current is also important on this coastline, bringing warm waters to relatively high latitudes and enabling the development of some unique reef communities. Further north there are several reefs on the outer edges of the continental shelf. These include remnants of what may have been a substantial barrier reef structure drowned as a result of rising sea levels over geological time scales. The northern coastline is less known, however this is an area of high terrestrial runoff, and the waters are shallow and turbid, greatly restricting reef development. The eastern boundary of the Arafura Sea is marked by a narrow constriction, the Torres Strait. East of here, the world’s largest coral reef complex commences, extending out to the margins on the continental shelf and continuing southwards as the Great Barrier Reef. The warm, southward flowing East Australia Current also supports the development of high latitude reefs along Australia’s eastern shores to the south of the Great Barrier Reef. Other reefs are found in Australia’s offshore waters. Most notable among these are the extensive reef structures of the Coral Sea, east of the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia also administers the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, both of which have significant coral reefs.

Australia’s original human population, the Australian Aborigines, are thought to have inhabited the country for more than 40 000 years. These people, and the Torres Strait Islanders who occupy parts of the far northeast of the country, have traditionally made considerable use of reef resources. It seems likely, however, that their overall impacts remained minimal. Population densities were low, and a large area of offshore reef remained inaccessible to them.

The continent was first described by European travellers in the 17th century. Dampier visited parts of the northwestern coast in 1688 and 1699. Captain James Cook was the first to navigate the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and indeed ran aground there in 1770. The first British settlement was established in Australia in 1788.

The Aboriginal population has decreased considerably since European occupation, while many of those who remain have been dispossessed of their traditional lands and have ceased to practice their traditional lifestyles. A few remaining coastal populations still have considerable rights regarding their traditional use of the reefs, but their numbers are so low that they are unlikely to have any significant impact except, perhaps, in parts of the Torres Strait region. The dominant human impacts can now be related to fisheries and terrestrial runoff from deforestation, overgrazing and certain agricultural practices. Compared with most countries, however, these impacts remain few. Population densities are low in all coral reef areas, while the location of many reefs at some distance from the shore further protects them from human impacts.

Considerable resources have been put into coral reef research in Australia and, despite the vast area of reefs in the country, there is a good deal of information describing their distribution and biodiversity. Equally importantly, the great majority of Australia’s reefs fall within protected areas. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is the largest protected reef in the world, and is well managed with a detailed zoning plan, providing areas of strict protection alongside much larger areas of multiple use.
Source: Spalding, M.D., C. Ravilious and E.P. Green , 2001 , World Atlas of Coral Reefs . Prepared at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. University of California Press,Berkeley,USA.421p. (See Document)

Side Bar