The different types of animals found along the Great Barrier Reef help make it one of the richest and most complex natural systems on Earth. While there is a lot known about some animals that make the Reef home, vast amounts of information and species are yet to be discovered.
- The Great Barrier Reef is home to a stunning array of animals, from microscopic plankton to whales weighing more than 100 tonnes. More than just fish and coral, the Reef supports:
- 1625 species of fish, including 1400 coral reef species
- More than 3000 species of molluscs (shells)
- 630 species of echinoderm (starfish, sea urchins)
- 14 breeding species of sea snakes
- 215 species of birds, including 22 species of seabirds and 32 species of shorebirds
- Six of the world's seven species of marine turtle
- 30 species of whales and dolphins
- One of the world's most important dugong populations
- 133 species of sharks and rays
- ....and much more
The different types of animals found along the Reef help make it one of the richest and most complex natural systems on Earth. While there is a lot known about some animals that make the Reef home, vast amounts of information and species are yet to be discovered.
Snapshot of Reef animals
- Marine mammals ( whales, dolphins, dugong, seals) - More than 30 species of marine mammals are found along the Great Barrier Reef. Bottlenose dolphins, humpback and dwarf minke whales are frequently seen, while other species such as Bryde's whales are seldom seen or perhaps seldom recognised. The Great Barrier Reef is an important habitat for dugong.
- Birds, seabirds and shorebirds - Islands and cays along the Great Barrier Reef support breeding populations of 22 seabird species. Areas of international significance for migratory and resident species of shorebirds are found on or adjacent, to the Great Barrier Reef.
- Marine turtles - Six of the world's seven species of marine turtles occur on the Great Barrier Reef, with globally significant nesting areas for four of these found in the Region. All six species are classified as threatened as a result of pressures both from within the Great Barrier Reef Region and elsewhere.
- Crocodile - The estuarine crocodile can be found in most coastal waters and around many of the islands and cays of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Sea snakes - Sitting in a global hotspot of sea snake diversity, the Great Barrier Reef is home to 14 different species of sea snake. This high number of different species is largely due to the Marine Park's variety of suitable habitats.
- Sharks and rays - 133 species are found along the Great Barrier Reef and range from small, cryptic species such as the epaulette shark to large, migratory species such as the whale shark.
- Fishes - Around 1625 bony fish species, including important commercial species such as coral trout.
- Echinoderms - About 630 species were recorded along the Great Barrier Reef, with starfish perhaps being the most well known.
- Crustaceans - Around 1300 species, including a number that are commercially important (for example, some species of crabs and prawns).
- Molluscs - More than 3000 species are known from the Great Barrier Reef. This group includes clams, oysters, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, nautilus, nudibranchs, chitons and snails.
- Hard corals - The signature group of the Great Barrier Reef with more than 450 species known.
- Sea anemones - Around 40 species were recorded along the Great Barrier Reef.
- Soft corals and sea pens - At least 150 species are known from the Great Barrier Reef. With their swaying bodies and jelly-like feel, soft corals' bodies are made up of a large number of polyps connected by fleshy tissue.
- Jellyfish - More than 100 species were recorded along the Great Barrier Reef, including blue bottles and box jellyfish. Large adult jellyfish are often accompanied by small fish which hide amongst their tentacles for protection.
- Sponges - Often colourful and common reef animals. Around 30 per cent of Australia's sponge species are found in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Bryzoans - Around 950 species of tiny animals that form coral-like colonies and are often confused with corals.
- Worms - About 500 species have been recorded along the Great Barrier Reef.
- Marine insects and spiders - Likely to be greater than five species of marine spiders and more than 20 species of marine insects.
- Plankton - A major food source for a number of species.
- Ascidians/tunicates - Sometimes called sea squirts, this group of around 720 species provide another splash of colour to the Great Barrier Reef
Species of conservation concern
The Great Barrier Reef is a refuge for many species of conservation concern.
- These species of conservation concern include:
- inshore dolphins
- sea snakes
- marine turtles
- some fish and sharks
As the Reef Authority, we work to protect marine animal species that are threatened, iconic or at risk. By working closely with the state and federal government and the community, threats to species can be identified, and appropriate management actions can occur.
- Protected species are those that are protected by law and need special management.
- Fishing sustainability concerns
- Over-fishing and illegal fishing can compromise the long-term sustainability of stocks and impact the resilience of the marine ecosystem.
- Over-fishing has caused significant population declines of:
- saucer scallop (Amusium balloti)
- east coast Australian snapper (Pagrus auratus)
- pearl perch (Glaucosoma scapulare)
- black jewfish
- some species of shark