Lying between 74.5 and 155 miles (120 to 250 km) off the Queensland coast, the Swain Reefs form a labyrinth of roughly 370 patches of reef and cays. Spanning about 6,525 square miles (16,900 square km), these reefs and cays sit at the most eastern and southern section of the Great Barrier Reef.
One of the cays, Bell Cay, was marked as a resources reserve in 1962. In 1994, Swain Reefs National Park was created, and included Bacchi, Bell, Bylund, Frigate, Gannett, Price, Riptide and Thomas Cay. Distant Cay was added in 2005. These near-pristine cays and reefs have been protected to preserve the vegetation and character of the most remote sand cays on the Great Barrier Reef and to provide protection for feeding, resting, and breeding seabirds and turtles. Research and monitoring programs are important activities at the National Park, but are managed to minimize disturbance while maximizing information collected. Some of the research includes seabird population dynamics, ecological processes and vulnerability of seabirds to environmental change.
On June 24, 2020, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a gorgeous true-color image of Swain Reefs National Park off the Queensland coast. The image also includes part of the Great Barrier Reef. Sediment pours into the coastal waters of the Great Barrier Reef from the Herbert River in Livingstone Shire, Australia.