The modern Great Barrier Reef rises from a shallow (0-100 m) continental shelf of about 210 000 km2, between the north-east Australian coast and the Coral Sea. While shallow coral reefs are widely recognised as an iconic habitat, they occupy only five percent of the region. This chapter is about the diversity of benthic habitats and biota of the deeper lagoon and inter-reefal seabed areas of the remainder of the region.
Only a small fraction of this vast deeper seabed had been examined by marine biologists during the 20th century. Extensive new information was provided during 2003-2006 by the GBR Seabed Biodiversity Project, which mapped the distribution of seabed habitats (including mud, sand and gravel flats; algae and seagrass beds, sponge and gorgonian gardens, hard and shoal grounds) and their associated biological diversity of more than 7000 species, many new to science, across the length and breadth of the GBR Marine Park.
The GBR seabed has alternated between terrestrial and marine environments, due to repeated glacial periods over geological history (Chapters 2 and 3). Today's seabed habitats and biodiversity still partly reflect this history and are broadly influenced by coastal processes (Chapter 11) on one side and oceanic processes (Chapter 4) on the other, with numerous subpatterns due to regional differences in several physical factors. Overlaid on the broad patterns, the majority of variation in the biota results from a multitude of biological and stochastic processes.
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