The Great Barrier Reef is many things to many people. To some, the term conjures up visions of a tropical sea studded with coral reefs and islands and represents a place of adventure, romance and recreation. Some see the Great Barrier Reef as a place of beauty, a kaleidoscope of colour and a refuge for a host of strange but interesting animals and plants. Still others see it as the most complex ecosystem on this planet, posing a major challenge to scientists wishing to unlock the storehouse of new knowledge it contains.
To me it is all of these things and I am grateful that I had the opportunity over the last thirty years to travel along its length, to visit hundreds of its reefs and to study the fauna and flora of those reefs. Everywhere, from the atoll-like platform reefs of the Bunker and Capricorn Group and the magnificent underwater citadels of the Swain Reefs complex at its southern end to the precipitous ribbon reefs north of Cairns, and to the tide races of Torres Strait and the huge Warrior Reefs near its northern limit there is variety, colour and spectacle that are more than sufficient to make the Great Barrier Reef qualify as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The Royal Commissions into Oil Drilling on the Great Barrier Reef and the enquiry into the crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef sponsored by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments during the early 1970s revealed the apparent depth of our ignorance of many aspects of the biology of corals, starfish, and other organisms associated with coral reefs, and of the general ecology of coral reef communities. Yet, a great mass of new data on coral reefs generally and on the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef and their fauna and flora in particular had been obtained since the Second World War and had accumulated in various scientific journals. Some of it was brought together during the 1970s in the four volume work entitled Biology and Geology of Coral Reefs which was edited by O. A. Jones and myself and published by Academic Press. By the early 1980s the time was opportune for the production of a book incorporating new advances in our knowledge of this vast area.
Initially it was intended that the book be written for biologists and biology students. However, Mr Frank Thompson, Manager of the University of Queensland Press, persuaded me to write what was hopefully termed a definitive book on the Great Barrier Reef for a general audience. The task of writing a book suitable for both university students and a general audience was a daunting one, but it occurred to me that anybody interested in the natural sciences is a student in a sense. Moreover, there was an urgent need to provide members of the general public with sufficient information to enable them to assess logically the major threats now faced by the fauna and flora of the Great Barrier Reef as a result of past, present and projected human activities in the region. Accordingly, this book has a core of classical biology. Most of the groups of animals and plants occurring on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as many of the recent advances in our understanding of major ecological problems relating to them are dealt with in this book. In addition topics such as the importance and the future of the Great Barrier Reef, its geography and topography, its geology and mode of formation, its recent history, tourist resorts in the region, fishing, reef-walking and diving on the reefs, strange and dangerous animals that might be encountered there, and the pressing need for conservation of its fauna and flora are included. As well as providing a reliable source of information for both students of and visitors to the Great Barrier Reef it was intended that the book would be a practical memento of a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. For these reasons it was decided to illustrate this book with colour photographs showing not only the diversity of the fauna and flora of the Great Barrier Reef but also its grandeur and beauty.
Because of limitations on book size it was decided that animal groups found on the Great Barrier Reef would be dealt with principally at the family level.
A discussion of the manner in which zoologists arrange animals in taxonomic groupings will be found in chapter four and descriptions of the various family groups will be found under appropriate headings. These descriptions should be used in conjunction with relevant diagrams and colour illustrations in order to obtain an idea of the basic characteristics of each family group. Genera found on the Great Barrier Reef and belonging to each family mentioned are listed. (Plans are in hand to produce a series of books in which species belonging to each family of animals found on the Great Barrier Reef are discussed so that detailed information on the various species occurring there will ultimately become available.) The general reader of this book who is not particularly interested in descriptions of animal groups could skip through these descriptions leaving them for later reference and concentrate on the remainder of the book so as to obtain an overview of the nature of the Great Barrier Reef, of the general biology of the major groups found there, of the general ecology of coral reef communities and of the conservation problems bearing on these communities…….