The Great Barrier Reef: Hungry Species of all Sizes

Clownfish peeking out from an anemone plant at the Great Barrier Reef.
Green turtle.
A Manta ray on a “cleaning station”.
Map of Australia, with the Great Barrier Reef located off the northeast coast.
Potato cod at the Great Barrier Reef.

As explained in the previous chapter, feeding frenzies cause reefs to become very crowded. Both plants and fish want to satisfy their hunger, and natural selection determines which species on the reefs get eaten and which ones get to eat. This is just like any other food chain in nature, where the stronger species go after the weaker ones.

In the pursuit of smaller and weaker species at the Great Barrier Reef, large fish, as was just alluded to, often benefit from being fast and strong. However, their potential prey use many clever tactics to get away. These escape tactics include hiding in coral thickets, burying oneself in sand, and like the orange clownfish with its thick layer of protective mucus, taking refuge among the stinging branches of the anemone plant.

Reef “service stations”

While reefs, as explained, are indeed prime hunting grounds, not all predators go there as hunters. The manta ray, for example, is known to sometimes “park” in the Great Barrier Reef and allow smaller fish to eat the parasites that are attached to its body. This is a type of cleaning service that benefits both the individual manta rays, which get the annoying parasites removed from their bodies, and the smaller fish, which get food in the form of parasites conveniently served.

A tourist magnet

On the Great Barrier Reef, where the previously mentioned predators and prey interact, spectacular plants and creatures of all shapes and colors live side-by-side. This biodiversity, in a sense, has become part of many Australians’ identity, and the reef, for its significance to humanity, has been recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The beautiful reef, furthermore, is a tourist magnet, generating good income for the local economy and providing jobs. Sadly though, in the last decades, the corals necessary for the survival of the Great Barrier Reef have started to wither away due to warming ocean temperatures and various other factors.