From space, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shines like a string of bright and precious jewels in the deep blue waters of the Coral Sea. As the Earth’s most extensive reef system, and a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, the Reef is, in fact, truly precious.
The Great Barrier Reef contains over 400 types of coral, and supports an extremely diverse marine ecosystem. About 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk live in the Reef, and it provides habitat for species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.
Sitting off of and running roughly parallel to Queensland’s coast, the Great Barrier Reef covers more than 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 sq mi) and stretches extends for more than 2,000 kilometers (1243 mi). While generally referred to as a single unit (“the Reef”), it is actually made up of approximately 2,500 individual reefs and over 900 islands, which include tiny cays (islands which are part of a reef), small vegetated islets as well as large islands with rugged terrain rising over 1,100 m (684 mi) above sea level.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this spectacular true-color image of the Great Barrier Reef on July 30, 2014. The dry Australian winter landscape appears tan, highlighted with green vegetation along the coast. Just off the coastline, bits of electric blues and greens mark the coral reefs. A bank of clouds sits to the northeast.