Slow English

Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 93 – The Great Barrier Reef


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack
Podcast Number 93 – The Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of northern Queensland. It is the world’s largest coral reef system and one of the world’s great natural wonders. In this podcast I would like to tell you a little about this amazing natural marvel.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over a distance of around 2300km down the coast of northern Queensland, starting from near the tip of Cape York, Australia’s most northern point, going down to the town of Bundaberg, which is around 360km north of Brisbane. The reef lies close to the coast, sometimes only 15 kilometres offshore while at other times it is around 150 kilometres offshore. It is made up of around 3000 separate coral reefs and makes up 10% of the world’s coral reefs. An interesting fact is that it is the only living thing which can be seen from space.

The reef and the islands within it are an incredibly beautiful and rich environment. It contains more than 400 types of living coral, around 1500 different species of tropical fish, over 200 species of birds and around 20 types of reptiles including turtles, sea snakes and crocodiles. The colours of the coral and the underwater life have to be seen to be believed. There are over 900 islands and cays.

Picture by csharker.

The Great Barrier Reef is a precious world resource. In a sense, it belongs to the entire world and Australia has the responsibility of looking after it. To show how important it is for the world, UNESCO listed it in 1981 as a world heritage site. This means that its importance to humanity is recognized by the United Nations and it is agreed that it must be protected and preserved. Australia’s government and Australians understand this and we take our responsibility very seriously with regard to protecting the reef.

In 1975, to help protect and preserve the reef, the Australian Government created a special marine park which covers most of the area occupied by the reef. To manage the park, and hence protect the reef, a special organization was created. It is called the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and it is controlled by the Federal Government, in partnership with the Queensland Government.

The Authority protects the marine park and the reef by creating rules and regulations which all users of the marine park must follow. It also monitors what is happening within the park to make sure that the marine park and the reef remain protected, while still allowing people to enjoy the wonderful sights of the reef and enjoy the reef environment. It issues permits to companies and other groups so they can use the park while following all the rules designed to protect the reef and its environment. It also has a key role in educating everybody about the marine park and the reef, so that activities by humans on and near the reef are properly controlled.

The reef certainly needs to be protected, so the authority has a very important job to do. The main dangers to the reef are from human activity, although there are also some natural dangers to the reef. For example, large ships must navigate through that area and it would be so easy for the reef to be damaged, especially if a ship was to run aground and possibly spill oil or fuel which would damage the reef. Ships must only use approved routes through and near the reef, which helps to reduce the risk of an accident. There are also special ships’ pilots, who can guide visiting ships safely through the reef if required. Despite that, there have been around 1600 ship wrecks in or near the reef. The last one occurred in 2010 when a large ship ran aground, spilling oil onto the reef.

Another danger to the reef is from tourism. Every year around 2 million people visit the reef. I’m not surprised that so many people go to the reef, not only Australians but also people from all over the world. After all, it’s a beautiful place so it’s important that people can go there to experience it. But when so many people visit one place, there is a real danger that it can be damaged. Imagine if each person took away a small piece of the reef as a momento. Very soon the reef would be destroyed. To help prevent this, the entire reef has been divided into special zones. When you are visiting the reef, you need to follow the rules about what you can and can’t do in each zone. It is said that the best things to collect from the reef are memories and photographs – that way the reef will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Picture by csharker.

There are also many rivers which flow into the sea adjacent to the reef. As you might expect, pollution from these rivers in Northern Queensland is also a concern for the reef. These rivers pass through farm lands where fertilizers and insecticides are regularly used. Of course, some of these chemicals will be washed into the rivers and end up in the ocean around the reef, especially after periods of flood. These chemicals can actually kill the coral so this is something which the government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are helping farmers to reduce, so as to keep the reef healthy.

Another impact on the reef is climate change. As the temperature of the ocean slowly increases, this affects the health of the coral and can make them turn white, a process called bleaching. Bleached coral can die so this is a major concern. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has a plan to help make the reef more resilient to climate change.

In addition to the effects from human activities, the reef also has a natural enemy – the crown of thorns starfish. This large starfish loves to eat coral and an outbreak of starfish can quickly destroy a coral reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has a program to remove and control these starfish. This will require continuing effort into the future.

Incredibly, like many Australians, I have not yet seen the Great Barrier Reef. I do have friends who have visited North Queensland and who have taken a trip out to the reef. They say the beauty of the reef and its amazing abundance of sea life is something really worth seeing. One day I will make the journey and see it for myself.

If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast. I will write back to you, in English of course. If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.


Podcast 93 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the quiz as many times as you like.


abundance = when there is a lot of something
accident = when a mistake is made and a ship, car or truck hits something
adjacent = next to
amazing = when people find something hard to believe. When something is very, very good
approved routes = an agreed and safe way through
belongs = when something is owned
cays =  small islands made of coral
chemicals = special types of materials used to make things – often poisonous
coast = where the land meets the sea
contains = holds
controlled = when someone can decide what happens
created = made
damaged = when something is broken
dangers = things that might hurt a person or thing
designed = made according to certain rules
despite that = even though, nonetheless, notwithstanding
destroyed = when something is completely broken into small pieces
effort = work
entire = everything, all
environment = the natural world, or part of it, in which we live
experience = to see, feel, smell, touch or hear something
fertilizers = special substances or chemicals to make plants grow better
future generations = your children and their children
heritage site = a place which is so important that it must not be lost or changed
humanity = all of the people on earth
impact = effect
incredibly = when something is hard to believe
insecticides = special substances to kill insects
marvel = something which is very, very special
momento = a small piece of something which reminds you of it
monitors = watches and records what is happening
natural = things made by nature, not made by man humans
navigate = to find your way
occupied = when a place is filled up by something
occurred = happened
offshore = away from the coast, in the direction of the sea
organization = a group of people who work together
partnership = when you work with another person or group
permits = an agreement that you can do a certain thing
pilots = people who know the way and can show you the way
pollution = when land, air or water is made dirty
precious = when people love something very much
preserved = when something is kept the same, without changing
properly = correctly
protected = when something cannot be damaged or hurt
recognized = when you know that something is true
reduce = lower, make smaller
regulations = rules
reptiles = a type of animal which includes snakes, lizards and crocodiles
resilient = strong and able to recover quickly when damaged or hurt
resource = something which is useful
responsibility = when you must do something
rich = (here) when there are many, many different things in the environment
risk = when something is likely to happen
run aground = when a ship sails into water that is too shallow
separate = (here) when things are not together
space = the place away from the earth
species = a type of animal or plant
spill = to spread something around
starfish = a type of sea creature in the shape of a star
stretches = when something goes from one place to another place far away
tip = the top
tourism = when people visit a place to relax, have fun and see the sights
tropical = found near the equator
types = varieties, styles, categories
UNESCO = United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organsation
wonders = things which are very, very special and wonderful
wrecks = when a ship has crashed into rocks or sunk
zones = areas.


  1. Hi Rob,
    In the eyes of the Chinese, the Great Barrier Reef is a tourism card of Australia. Some Chinese may not know much about places of interest in Australia other than the Great Barrier Reef. More than a decade ago, I read that the Great Barrier Reef might be closed to tourists because of the pollution. In fact, the Australian government has not restricted people from traveling there, and it has taken responsibility to protect and preserve the reef and remarkable results are achieved. It’s doing the world a favor. I feel you have a part to play in protecting the reef. Thank you so much.
    Have a great day.

    • Hi Dep,
      Many thanks for your comment. Yes, the Great Barrier Reef is truly one of the world’s great treasures. While the government has taken steps to preserve its beauty, I remain concerned that the ongoing effects of climate change may damage the reef permanently. In my opinion, our response to climate change is one of the great issues facing humanity at the moment and for the coming decades.
      Best regards,

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.