Category Archives: Australia

Geo-Joint: The Great Barrier Reef


Image Credit: Wikimedia

Go to the northeastern coast of Australia and look east – you can’t miss it.  Except it’s underwater, mostly.  At 2300 kilometers (or about 1420 miles) in length, the Great Barrier Reef more than dwarfs the next two biggest reefs, the Belize Reef at 290 km and Australia’s Ningaloo Reef at 280 km.  And it’s not just a long string – it has enough width to be about half the size of Texas in area.  The Great Barrier Reef isn’t one continuous mass, however.  It comprises 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral keys and roughly 150 inshore mangrove islands.  It’s gotten the “world’s biggest organism” designation from some “world’s biggest” compilers because although it is made up of billions (trillions?) of coral polyps, the reef itself is a shared housing arrangement.  Each individual secretes calcium carbonate and adds to the massive complex.  As individuals die off, their former “house” remains, and gets built on top of, for thousands of years.

And that system worked pretty well up until the 20th century got rolling.  Studies done in the 1920s and ’30s documented a baseline for what the Great Barrier Reef could be, an ecosystem of wonderous richness and diversity.  Forty years later the scientists who had done that early work returned and were appalled at what had happened.  Silt from farming operations had washed down rivers and buried huge areas of coral, smothering them.  Not long after, in 1985, study sites were set up to monitor the health of the reef in over 100 locations.  It has revealed a depressing situation – since the mid-’80s, coral cover has diminished by about 50 percent.  As in half.  In less than ten years, at that rate, another half will be gone.  UNESCO, which once deemed the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage Site, is considering adding it to their “World Heritage in Danger” list, reflecting a dire outlook.

How can this be happening?  It’s not just the siltation anymore; it’s so many things.  The biggest threat to the reefs are the seasonal cyclones whose heavy seas break off parts of the reef structure, and bring heavy rains which wash huge sediment loads into the sea.  As much as 40% of the reefs’ decline may be attributable to storm damage, combined with the crown-of-thorns starfish.   The crown-of-thorns is a natural inhabitant of the reef – its food source is the coral itself – and under normal circumstances it can live there in a balanced state.  But when excessive nutrient loads are washed into the reef at the same time starfish larvae are developing, inordinate numbers of them survive to overpopulate, and overeat, the reef.

Another 10% of reef damage is laid to coral bleaching, a situation in which organisms that live symbiotically with coral die off due to increased ocean temperature, pollution, disease and other causes.  The other 50% of damage comes from a variety of sources, including the pollution of fertilizer and pesticides coming from farms, the dumping of harbor dredging operations at sea, and the construction of new port facilities.  The double-whammy of the new ports is that they are being built to handle more export of natural gas and coal, the very burning of which brings greater climate change, increasing the size and frequency of the cyclones that hit the reef.

Lastly (maybe) is the staggering threat of ocean acidification caused by the CO2 load in the atmosphere.  Greater ocean acidity actually dissolves the calcium carbonate that the reefs are made of.  How much more abuse can the Great Barrier Reef take?  What can be done to save it?

Efforts are being made to manually kill off the excess crown-of-thorns starfish (an enormous task – just as the starfish  are enjoying a new population boom that could last 10 years), and there are demands to create more laws regarding farm runoff and dredge dumping, but the drivers of climate change are produced worldwide, beyond Australia’s control.  Hard to face is that their own increased carbon energy production feeds the problem just as prospective oil drilling in the Arctic will hasten the melting of the polar ice cap.  Changes of epic proportion will probably be needed to turn the situation around, but sadly, while hands are wringing, the world charges headlong in the wrong direction.

By: Editors at

Map Collection: Vintage Maps

In world that’s consumed by the latest and greatest technology, sometimes it is nice to slow down and embrace items from the past. Travel to a time when beauty frequently took precedence over function. We’ve pulled together a collection of our favorite vintage maps and you are cordially invited to see the world though the eyes of the cartographers of the past.

Map of Sydney, Australia

Image credit: The Cartography Collective

You won’t find any kangaroos on this map, but you can take a look at the complex waterways of Port Jackson as they existed over ninety years ago. This historic map focuses on Sydney, Australia in 1922.

[Read: Awesome Map: Unrealized City Plans]

California Map

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This is truly California Dreamin’ on a map! It colorfully displays the various cities throughout the Golden State, while the darling pictures tell a story about each region.

Map of Santa Barbara, CA

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We love this beautiful map of Santa Barbara, although we may be a little biased. This panoramic view of our coastal city is a reproduction of a map created in 1877,  filled with intricate details. Look closely and you’ll see livestock and even boats in the harbor.

[Read: Awesome Public Domain Map: Nature is Calling]

New York Subway Map

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This map takes you to a time when there were elevated routes on the New York Subway and the 1939 World’s Fair was still proudly on display. New Yorkers can take a historical look at their city and marvel at the changes.

[Read: Awesome Map: You Say “Tomato” and I Say “Tomahto”]

Amazon River Map

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This vintage map follows the Amazon River as it winds down from the Andes and eventually runs into the Atlantic.

We love awesome maps! Do you know of any that you think we should feature? We would be delighted to hear from you. Send your submissions here.

Map Showing Physical Features of Australia

One of the best things that a good map does is give viewers a feel for the physicality of a space. They can easily spot the location of bodies of water and coastlines. There will be indications of mountains and deserts even on political maps. Topographical and satellite maps are really great at showing the natural features of an area, but there are plenty of standard maps that will show the physical features of Australia.

Australia is a vast country, encompassing over 2.9 million square miles and home to over 22 million people. There are six states and two official territories. It holds the distinction of being the sixth largest country in the world, but the smallest continent.

Australia Physical MapExamining an australia map that shows physical features will quickly reveal that the belief that Australia is a flat, boring country is false. There are three distinct geographical regions, each with its own features.

The Central Lowlands is the driest region of Australia. The vast Simpson Desert is here, stretching over 64,770 square miles. It is home to beautiful red sand dunes, large salt pans, and numerous lakes that are usually dry, filling only during rare rains. Lake Eyre is the largest lake in Australia, when it is full ,which only happened three times in the last century. The lowest point in Australia, around 29 feet below sea level, is Lake Eyre.

The Western Plateau is also home to a number of deserts, such as the Great Victoria , the Great Sandy, and the Tanami. Cold water ocean currents keep the area very dry. The Plateau is mostly flat and low, though there are three mountain ranges here. An great example of flat Australia is the Nullarbor Plain, the name means no trees. Once a sea floor, the plain is covered in limestone and lies above a series of sinkholes, underground caves that are now filled with water. One of the most striking features of this region are the rock monoliths.

The Eastern Highlands are comprised of a series of mountains and hills separated by plateaux. Often referred to as the Great Dividing Range, it is usually subdivided into several smaller ranges, including the Snowy Mountains of movie fame, the Australian Alps, the Grampian Mountains and the Blue Mountains. The tallest point on the continent is here: Mount Kosciuszko. Standing at 7,300 feet, it is half the height of Europe’s tallest mountain. The region features several extinct volcanic mountains.

Perhaps the most amazing physical feature of Australia is located in the ocean rather than on land. The Great Barrier Reef. It extends over 1200 miles and is the largest coral reef in the world. It is located off the northeast coast of Australia.