Australia's Great Barrier Reef is truly great in every way.


The fourth global mass bleaching event was confirmed, the second in ten years. This is the fifth mass bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has experienced in just eight years, and the 2024 event is feared to be the most widespread and damaging to date.

“The coral crisis is a climate crisis. We must act urgently to stop burning fossil fuels or we will lose coral reefs worldwide.” - Pepe Clarke, WWF Oceans Practice Leader.

Read the full story here.

Located off the coast of Queensland, this vibrant reef ecosystem is one of the world's seven natural wonders and a prized UNESCO World Heritage Area. It holds the title of the largest coral reef system and the biggest living structure on the planet, and millions of people travel across the world every year to marvel at this treasure trove of marine life.

The Reef has a global reputation for its crystal clear waters, kaleidoscopic corals, and more than nine hundred picturesque islands. This network of marine sanctuaries holds unparalleled ecological importance, serving as a haven for thousands of plants and animals.

Sadly, the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure. Climate change, rising temperatures and human interference threaten its survival. We need to take action to protect and preserve this natural wonder for years to come.

Great Barrier Reef facts

Aerial view of Hardy Reef, home to the Heart Reef, in the Great Barrier Reef

These images were taken on 20 June 2017 by a drone to assess if the Heart Reef has been bleached.
Aerial view of Hardy Reef, Great Barrier Reef © Christian Miller / WWF-Australia

How big is the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef spans over a jaw-dropping 344,400 square kilometres - an area roughly the size of Japan. In fact, the Reef is so large it can be seen from space! Stretching from Bundaberg up to the Torres Strait Islands, it comprises of 3,000 individual reef systems, 760 fringing reefs, 900 tropical islands and about 300 coral cays.

© Mike Ball Dive Expeditions / WWF-Aus

What animals live on the Great Barrier Reef?

Plants and animals of all different shapes and sizes can be found on the Great Barrier Reef.

More than 1,600 species of fish live in its waters, as well as 133 species of shark and rays, 30 species of whale and dolphin, and six of the seven sea turtle species.

You’re guaranteed to come across some pretty incredible animals when snorkelling or scuba diving on the Reef!

Sunlight illuminating coral= Great Barrier Reef
© Troy Mayne

How old is the Great Barrier Reef?

While it is estimated to be 500,000 years old, the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today began taking shape 8,000 years ago after the last ice age.

As the climate warmed and ice melted, the sea levels rose, flooding the continental shelves off the coast of Australia. Tiny soft-bodied organisms called coral polyps started building on ancient reefs and volcanic islands.

Over time, they formed the Great Barrier Reef we recognise today.

Why is the Great Barrier Reef important?

The Great Barrier Reef is beloved for its stunning nature and wildlife. But its significance goes far beyond aesthetics.

It’s one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, home to an incredible array of marine plants and animals. The expansive coral reefs play a vital role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, as well as providing invaluable research opportunities to understand the role reefs play in keeping our oceans and planet healthy.

Beyond its breathtaking beauty, as one of the world's top tourist attractions, the Great Barrier Reef serves as a vital economic driver in Australia. It sustains more than 60,000 jobs, primarily in tourism, and contributes $6.4 billion annually to the national economy.

The Great Barrier Reef also holds deep cultural significance for Indigenous Australians who have lived on it and alongside it for thousands of years. Traditional Owners have a profound spiritual connection with the Reef, and there are 70 Traditional Custodian groups whose Sea Country includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Discover more about the cultural significance of the Great Barrier Reef.

Sadly, the health of the Reef has significantly declined over the past three decades. Coastal developments, pollution and human interference all pose major threats, disrupting wildlife and destroying habitat. The Reef has also suffered multiple mass coral bleaching events as a result of global warming. We need to act quickly to conserve and protect the future of this iconic World Heritage Area.

What are the greatest threats to the Great Barrier Reef?


Pollution from farming run-off, ships and plastic is one of the key drivers of the Great Barrier Reef’s decline. It smothers corals and seagrass beds, blocking sunlight and driving population explosions of the invasive crown of thorns starfish. All these threats make coral more vulnerable to bleaching.


Sadly, the scale and number of problems the Reef now faces have outgrown the capacity of the institutions and systems put in place to protect it. Australia urgently needs stronger nature laws to protect the Reef from climate change, human interference and a multitude of other threats.

Unsustainable fishing

The Reef faces numerous threats from unsustainable fishing practices. Animals become entrapped and drown in nets, and ship traffic results in noise pollution and animal collisions. The Australian and Queensland governments have committed to permanently banning commercial gill net fishing by 2027, however, ongoing conservation efforts are essential to ensure Queensland’s fisheries management system becomes sustainable.

What we're doing to help

Christine Hof (Program Manager Marine Species, WWF-Australia) snorkelling with a sea turtle on Heron Island, Queensland.
Christine Hof (Program Manager Marine Species, WWF-Australia) snorkelling with a sea turtle on Heron Island, Queensland. © WWF-Australia / Jacinta Shackleton

Net-Free Reef

For years, WWF-Australia has been concerned about the impact that commercial gill net fishing has on the marine wildlife of the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2016, we made global headlines by purchasing and retiring two commercial fishing licences to help create a haven for threatened marine wildlife. We later purchased and shelved two more commercial gill net licences, establishing a 100,000 square kilometre net-free oasis the size of Tasmania in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

In 2023, the Australian and Queensland governments announced their commitment to permanently phase out commercial gill net fishing from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by June 2027.

This is a huge step forward in protecting and safeguarding the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

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Microplastics found on Milman Island
Microplastics found on Milman Island © Veronica Joseph/WWF-Australia

Plastic Pollution

For the past five years, WWF-Australia has been monitoring the progress of all states and territories in banning the most harmful and unnecessary single-use plastic products that pose the greatest risk if leaked into the environment.

We launched our first ‘State of Plastics in Australia’ report in 2019, and since then, we've seen impressive progress across the country. The sea of red we saw in our 2019 Plastics Scorecard has since been replaced by a sea of green, meaning most states and territories have banned most products we track, and others have plans underway to do so.

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A green turtle (Chelonia mydas) having a rest at Lighthouse Bommie= Great Barrier Reef
© Mike Ball Dive Expeditions / WWF-Aus

Regenerative Saltwater

Regenerative Saltwater is WWF-Australia’s plan to protect oceans and species in the southern hemisphere.

Our vision is for Australia to become a global leader in protecting oceans and species that sustain ecosystems and communities.

We are rallying to unite key southern hemisphere countries to create safe passages for marine wildlife, support coastal communities and protect 100 million hectares of ocean.

Regenerative Saltwater
© Shutterstock / Circotasu / Constantin, © Pond5 / CleverArts / WWF, © Bluebottle Films / WWF-Australia, © WWF-Australia, © WWF-Australia / Virtual Connexion

Regenerative Sky

To save the species, places, and communities we love, we must do everything possible to keep global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Regenerative Sky (Climate) is our program of work to build a healthy and resilient net-zero world. Our vision is to support Australia to become a global leader in securing a healthy climate powered by communities, nature and renewable energy.

Read our climate strategy