Lying adjacent and seaward of the Great Barrier Reef, in a remote oceanic environment, the Coral Sea is separated from the Great Barrier Reef by an area of deep water known as the Queensland Trough, protected from effects of coastal influences such as urban run-off and pollution. Due to this location, it has largely avoided the destructive fate of other coral reefs worldwide, including the closely related Great Barrier Reef.
A diverse range of coral reefs, remote islands, sandy cays, underwater mountains, abyssal plains and deep-sea canyons make up the Coral Sea. This array of habitats, and the unique coincidence of climate, hydrological and ecological conditions, enable a spectacular array of wildlife to inhabit its waters. In fact, the Coral Sea remains one of the few areas on earth where large pelagic fishes such as tuna, billfish, marlin and sharks have not yet been severely depleted. The protected status of the Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef National
Nature Reserves has allowed fish, mammal, bird, reptile, and invertebrate communities to thrive.Photo: Coral Sea Reef; credit: Nicola Temple
The Coral Sea provides critical habitat for the critically endangered Hawksbill and endangered Green Turtles, 25 species of whales and dolphins, and 27 species of seabird, at least 13 of which breed on the islands. It provides significant nursery and breeding grounds for an array of species including seabirds, turtles, humpback whales, sharks and other top order predators and with each new survey revealing species that are new to science, it is likely that a number of undiscovered species exist in the area.
The Coral Sea contains sea mounts that have exceptionally high biodiversity and that have not been destroyed by bottom trawling fishing practices. In addition, being located on the edge of the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia, the islands function as a vital genetic link for species between the wider Pacific and the Great Barrier Reef, as currents passing through the area replenish the reefs of Australiaand the Triangle.
In addition to these natural values, the Coral Sea is of national significance due to its military and civic heritage values. Since their discovery in the early 1800s, the navigational difficulty of the reefs of the Coral Sea has caused many exploratory and commercial vessels to run aground on its shallow reefs. This has resulted in a significant loss of life and the actual number of shipwrecks within the region is still unknown.
It also possesses a rich military maritime history, being the site of an historic naval engagement in May 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea, that turned the tide of World War II. This Battle cemented the ties between the Australian and American armed forces, and marked the first time during WWII that the Imperial Japanese Navy failed to win a naval battle, impeding their seaward advance to Port Moresby.
photo: Christmas Tree Worms: Credit Nicola Temple
HSI has submitted a nomination for consideration of the Coral Sea for inclusion in the national heritage list and also submitted a nomination to list the Coral Sea National Nature Reserves (Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reef) as national heritage. Please contact us if you would like further information on these nominations.
Photo:Campaign Spokes-fish, Barry Wrasse, credit: David Hannan