The Great Barrier Reef is a chain of coral reefs in the Coral Sea, off the north-eastern coast of Australia. The largest collection of coral in the world, the reef extends about 2,010 km (1,250 miles) from a point near Mackay, Queensland, to the Torres Strait, which lies between Australia and New Guinea.
The channel that separates the reef from the Australian coast varies in width from 16 km (10 miles) to 240 km (150 miles) in the south. The reef protects the channel from the harsh wind and waves of the Coral Sea so water in the channel is calm and shallow. Islets and rings of coral called atolls are scattered throughout the channel, making ship navigation difficult.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to a remarkable number of organisms. The coral itself is made up of the skeletons of tiny, flower-like water animals called polyps (a kind of Hydra), held together by a limestone substance produced by a type of algae. Hundreds of species of polyps form coral in a beautiful range of colours and shapes. The reef also supports many larger water animals, including more than 1,000 species of fish.
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