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Great Barrier Reef Disaster: The Biggest Threats Facing The Reef (PHOTOS)

Huffington Post     First Posted: 06/06/10 06:12 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 05:05 PM ET

Chinese ship Shen Neng 1 ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef late Saturday, leaking oil into the world's largest reef system. According to WWF Australia, the reef has 1,500 species of fish, 359 types of hard coral, one third of the world's soft corals, 175 bird species, six of the world's seven species of threatened marine turtle, more than 30 species of marine mammals, 5,000 to 8,000 molluscs and thousands of different sponges, worms, crustaceans, 800 species of echinoderms and 215 bird species.

With so much at stake, many are concerned over how much damage the ship's presence could inflict on the pristine, rich environment, with experts predicting it could take weeks to clean up the mess. The incident highlights just how fragile the massive reef is to foreign invaders, whether they be humans, invasive species, or even sediment. As part of Our Oceans week, we're taking a look at the biggest threats facing the Great Barrier Reef. What do you think is the biggest potential danger to the world's largest reef system?

Ship Grounding
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The recent Chinese shipping disaster in the reef underscores the damage human presence can have on such a delicate environment that is so hugely reliant on its reef system. The Shen Neng 1 ran aground when it was taking a shortcut through the reef, leaking oil into the waters. It's now dangerously close to breaking apart, which could result in the leakage of its 1,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. Many are now calling foul on using such a pristine environment as a "coal highway" for bulk carriers. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 282 confirmed vessel spills were recorded in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area between 1987 and 2002.
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