Hope FloatsApril 23, 2014

The Great Barrier Reef, a 1,500-mile stretch of reefs and cays, is the icon of Queensland. Cable News Network (CNN) labeled it as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. But the main ecosystem is facing some serious problems.

The reefs were showing "declining trends in condition due to continuing poor water quality, cumulative impacts of climate change and increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events," according to a United Nations report. This means that the heritage status of this tourist attraction can be downgraded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which can be embarassing. But it isn't too late. 

"We just need more investment, more targeted action in the most dangerous pollution hot spots," said Nick Heath, from the World Wildlife Fund.

Federal and state governments estimate £230 million, between 2013 and 2018, aim at reducing (agricultural) pollution flowing into the water. They are undaunted by the report, which states that full recovery can take decades. Another factor is the crown-of-thorns starfish, which preys upon stony, coral polyps. They have been responsible for forty two percent of the decrease of corals along Queensland's coast.

"This is a nasty critter - it does damage to the reef, it does damage to aquatic life," said Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister.

Authorities found a more effective way to kill these starfishes, using a single-injection method that would kill them within twenty four to forty eight hours. This led to a fourfold increase in the number of starfish killed, the injections caused no harm to other marine plants and animals.

"That was the aim of the whole program - to try and give the coral a chance to grow and we've seen that, despite some of the extreme weather events that we've had," Steve Moon, from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, said.

The Great Barrier Reef has been a magnet for people who not only want a Robinson Crusoe moment, but also find their own South Sea paradise. This is the world's largest protected marine area, supporting four hundred types of coral, one thousand five hundred species of fish, and four thousand types of mollusc. Aside from being an important bird habitat, this is also a home to whales, turtles, reef sharks, dugongs, and dolphins. The islands of Lizard, Bedarra, and Hayman have their own luxury resorts, while the other isles offer a little more than a tent and hammock.

The best time to visit this part of Australia is during the southern winter, between June and August, when ocean temperature is pleasant and the days are clear and sunny.

The adventure extends beyond the seascape, as Far North Queensland has plenty of dry-land distractions. Daintree National Park is one, about 930 miles northwest of Brisbane. This reserve is valued because of its exceptional biodiversity, (Tree species, once believed to be extinct, have been discovered here.) Then there's Cape Tribulation, 68 miles north of Cairns. This headland offers crocodile cruises, horse riding, jungle surfing, and kayaking.

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