Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure, made by living creatures, on earth! At just over 216,000 square miles, the reef includes coral cays, island chains, beaches, mangrove swaps, and more. You can find over 1500 species of living creatures, including the colonies of living corals that constantly build the Great Barrier Reef, itself.
The Great Barrier Reef is also home to dangerous, even lethal, creatures of the sea. The Box Jellyfish, even small as it is (averaging just several inches across its bell), can kill a full grown human within minutes! The sting’s venom produces instant agonizing pain followed immediately by an extremely intense burning sensation. The venom poses multiple effects, attacking the nervous system, heart and skin simultaneously. To have a fatal effect on an adult human, a fairly large amount of venom must be injected into the victim, approximately 10 feet worth of tentacle’s venom. The box jellyfish’s neurotoxic venom is extremely quick to act. Fatalities have occurred as quickly as four minutes after the tentacles contact the skin of the victim. This is very fast, faster even than any insect, snake or spider venom known to man, including the King Cobra.
Another dangerous creature is the Smooth Stingray. The Smooth Stingray is the largest of the Australian Stingrays. They have been sighted and tagged at over 14 feet in length, and weighing approximately 775 pounds. While stingrays are not generally aggressive, when provoked or frightened, stingrays can indeed be fatal to humans. The venomous spine can be a deadly weapon, and even when not fatal, can and does inflict a severe wound, often becoming infected and causing blood pressure fluctuations, among other medical hazards. Steve Irwin, better known as the Crocodile Hunter, was killed in early September, 2006, by a stingray off the coast of Queensland, Australia, while filming an underwater documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
The small and innocuous appearing Blue-Ringed Octopus makes its home primarily in shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding coastal shelves. They are particularly dangerous creatures, due to the ‘cute’ appearance, which draws young children to touch the ‘pretty thing’ while exploring tidepools. The blue ringed octopus, like other octopus, camoflage themselves amongst rocks and crevices, often blending in to the rocks and sand. When the child reaches into the shallow waters to pick up the octopus, it changes its skin pattern to a brilliant blue ringed hue, and releases its deadly venom onto the child’s skin, as a defense mechanism. The golf-ball sized Blue-Ringed Octopus has a tiny beak so strong it can even penetrate a wetsuit! The tiny menace has enough venom to kill 26 adult humans, in just minutes.
The Stonefish is a relatively ugly fish, often blending into its surroundings with its mottled brownish color, with a row of sharp spines along its spine. The venom that is injected through punctured skin is fast-acting, and causes nearly immediate confusion and hysterical response in the victim. Paralyzation, swelling, nausea, vomiting and delirium can occur rapidly.
Sea Snakes are probably the least dangerous of the creatures mentioned here, but they are still dangerous. Although they are not aggressive normally, when provoked or cornered, sea snakes will bite. Usually the bite is a ‘dry’ bite, meaning that no venom is injected into the victim. When venom is injected, the victim can experience faintness, dizziness, disorientation, kidney failure and breathing difficulties. Sea snakes often live in colonies amongst sea grasses, and often appear to be waving fronds of seaweed – until they bite!
So, now that I’ve scared you (and myself!) into thinking the Great Barrier Reef is full of danger and death, let me mention that it is also one of the most amazingly beautiful places on earth! Let a local tour guide team take you out on the reef for a long, leisurely exploration of the largest living structure on earth. Tour operators are trained and equipped to handle any emergency and you will be safer and more able to enjoy it – the Great Barrier Reef, aptly named, don’t you think?