June 11 – Discovery of a Great Reef

Posted on June 11, 2016

The Great Barrier Reef from space
The Great Barrier Reef is a gorgeous place, by some definitions the largest living thing on Earth, visible, even, from space! Thousands and thousands of different sorts of species – from dolphins and dugongs to fish and sea snakes, from sea turtles and sea grasses to mollusks and crocodiles, from sponges and anemones to sea stars and seaweeds, and of course thousands of corals – live on the reef.

It does not seem like it would be difficult to discover such a huge thing – and it seems like the discovery would be a fun and beautiful thing.


The Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Australia, a place very far from and indeed not yet discovered by European explorers. And the discovery wasn't so much of a “Oh, look! How beautiful is that!” as it was a “Oh, no! What did we run into???”

On this date in 1770, English explorer and naval officer Captain James Cook “discovered” the Great Barrier Reef the hard way – by running his ship The Endeavor aground on it!

Once your ship is aground, it's not so easy to fix the problem.

After being stuck for an entire day, Cook and his crew finally freed their ship by throwing overboard 50 TONS of stuff. Then they still had to repair the damage. And only then could they get back to following their super secret orders: to search for a major southern continent and claim it for England.

A couple of months later, Cook would discover and explore Australia and New Zealand. Even though the former is considered a southern continent, it wasn't the huge landmass that so many people thought MUST exist to balance out the Earth. (Have you ever noticed that there is way more land in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern?)

Now, what about that reef?

Here are some of the kinds of species that live on or near the reef:


30 species of whales and dolphins

saltwater crocodiles

17 species of sea snakes

6 species of sea turtles

7 species of frogs

125 species of sharks/stingrays/skates

49 species of pipefish

9 species of seahorses

more than 1,500 other species of fish

215 species of birds

5 species of marine spiders

more than 20 species of marine insects

more than 5,000 species of mollusks, including octopi and squids

more than 630 species of sea stars and sea urchins

about 1,300 species of shrimp, crabs, and krill 

more than 100 species of jellyfish

40 species of sea anemones

about 720 species of sea squirts – or ascidians

more than 300 species of “moss animals” - or bryozoans

more than 400 species of corals

about 500 species of worms

about 1,500 species of sponges

15 species of seagrasses

about 500 species of seaweeds

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