Barrier reefs are among the most prevalent and well-known types of coral reefs in the world. Among the most significant locations where they can be found is also the Great Barrier Reef, the largest known conglomeration of coral reef formations in the world.
Commonly found in parallel formation compared to the shoreline, separated from the shoreline by a large or medium sized lagoon, and located far off shore, a barrier reef is usually pierced by a number of channels that provide access to the lagoon or body of water that comes between them and the shore of the island or continent they surround.
While somewhat similar to fringing reefs, barrier reefs are separated by a much deeper body of water from the shore, so that they never start growing directly from the shoreline itself.
Also, a most important characteristic of any barrier reef formation is that it forms extensive linear complexes that mostly thrive in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Also, it is worth mentioning that barrier reef formations are not as prevalent and commonly found as fringing or atoll reefs.
Newer studies have recently shown that coral reefs are not formed through a continuous process, and this seems to be even more pronounced in the case of barrier reef formations. Reefs such as the Belize Barrier have formed alongside deep trenches or bodies of water such as the Cayman Trough, that have allowed for localized coral growth and provided stability for the thriving of large numbers of fish and coral species that end up populating the rather narrow area of the barrier reef in question.
Similarly, most barrier reefs are kept in a state of constant formation through the slow movement of plate tectonics and the presence of storms and waves which cause the reefs to grow over time, while allowing the lagoon they protect to become a safe haven that is ripe for the presence of a significantly rich biodiversity.
Larger barrier reef formations often present a complex development process facilitated by a number of factors, including plate tectonics, the slow shift in sea level growth over time, specific currents facilitating the shaping of the reef and in some cases even the presence of land masses that used to be larger hills or volcanoes.
Among the most important barrier reef formations is the Great Barrier Reef – the world’s most imposing and sizable coral reef structure, being composed of about 3000 individual coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef is located in the Coral Sea, and is actually the largest structure in the world that was built by living organisms, being easily visible from outer space.
Other well-known barrier reef formations also include the Belize Barrier Reef, the New Caledonia Barrier Reef and much of the Great Maya Reef which encompasses the Belize Barrier Reef and a sizable region stretching out about 1000 km from the Yucatan Peninsula to Guatemala.
Barrier reefs are among the most significant types of reefs in the world due to their protective properties and ability to use storms for fueling their own growth and enhancing their ability to keep larger waves away from the shoreline.