Did you know that sea stars have no brains or blood and they digest their food outside of their body by protruding their stomach out of their mouth? Did you know that sharks have a special ‘electrosense’ that allows them to detect electrical impulses from living things? For those who can’t swim or don’t like to get wet, the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium provides the opportunity to meet all the creatures of the reef and learn about all of their special talents.
Formally known as the Great Barrier Reef Wonderland, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium was built as a Bicentennial Commemorative project and opened in Townsville in 1987. It is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium that aims to educate people and catalyse changes that will protect the Great Barrier Reef for many years to come.
There is a huge central aquarium that is home to the Coral Reef exhibit. It’s 18 metres wide, 5 metres deep and is home to over 150 species of fish, including the only Scalloped Hammer Head Shark on display in Australia, as well as a large variety of hard and soft corals that are found only on the Great Barrier Reef. The central aquarium is open to the elements so that the coral can receive natural light and weather, just like natural reefs. Adjacent to the central tank is the Predator Tank, which is home to four species of shark and an array of other predatory fish and a replica of North Queensland’s most famous shipwreck the S.S. Yongala.
Surrounding the Coral Reef exhibit are many smaller aquariums displaying a variety of animals like upside-down jelly fish, moray eels, semi-circle angel fish, freshwater turtles and even bioluminescent flashlight fish. We were fascinated with the shapes and colours of both the fish and the corals, and the interactive displays dotted around the complex were also fun.
We attended all the tours on offer at the aquarium. The Predator Dive Show was particularly interesting because one of the presenters was a diver inside the Predator Tank. Here, we learnt that while sharks kill only 6 people a year, people kill around 100 million sharks. We also learnt about beautiful and affectionate leopard sharks, and how they are one variety of shark that use spiracles to pump water over their gills so they can absorb oxygen. This allows them to lay motionless on the ocean floor while other species of sharks need to keep moving or they will suffocate. Leopard sharks are spotty like a leopard but their offspring look a lot different. When they emerge from their strange egg capsules, they’re black and white to resemble a poisonous sea snake, and this gives them a better chance of survival. The black and white markings have also earned them the name zebra shark.
The Turtle Hospital
Next door to the Reef HQ Aquarium is the community-funded Turtle Hospital, where sick and injured marine turtles can be cared for, rehabilitated and eventually released back into the ocean. It also works to raise awareness about threatened species and educate the community about what they can do to promote conservation.
Things that you can do to help include:
- Don’t by products made out of turtle… or any other protected animal!
- Don’t disturb nesting turtles.
- Keep Australia Beautiful and don’t litter. Plastic bags in the water look like jelly fish and turtles love to eat jelly fish!
- Report dead or injured turtles to Marine Stranding Hotline 1300 ANIMAL.
We got to visit the Turtle Hospital one on of the tours and met six turtles that were being cared for, including a baby flatback turtle that had its eye damaged when a bird tried to snack on it during its flappy dash from its sandy nest to the sea.
Australia is home to six of the seven species of sea turtle. The green sea turtle is the most common but the flatback is the only turtle that nests exclusively in Australia. Only 1 in 1000 baby turtles survive to sexual maturity, which is at around 40 years of age.
Donations to the Turtle Hospital can be made at the Reef HQ Aquarium Turtle Hospital MyCause page or by calling the Reef HQ Aquarium on (07) 4750 0800.
Entry to Reef HQ Aquarium covers all the talks and tours. There is also a merchandise shop and a café onsite offering meals, drinks and snacks. Ticket prices and further details can be found on the Reef HQ website: http://www.reefhq.com.au/