Low Isles prime reef

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

LOW Isles has al­ways been a cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant site for in­dige­nous Aus­tralians, called Wungkun, it is where sea coun­try of both the Kuku Yalanji and Yir­ran­gany­dji tribes over­laps.

Low Isles is con­sid­ered to have formed part of a united land mass that was sep­a­rated dur­ing the Dream­time and it is be­lieved that the Abo­rig­i­nal tribes of KuKu Yalanji and Yir­ra­gany­dji knew it as a peace is­land, where the heads of op­pos­ing main­land clans would pad­dle out to Low Isles to set­tle dis­agree­ments.

The white man dis­cov­ered Low Isles on the first voy­age of Cap­tain James Cook when the HMS En­deav­our sailed past on June 10, 1770.

Low Isles, 15km north- east of Port Dou­glas, is com­posed of Low Is­land, which is a small co­ral cay and Woody Is­land, a larger man­grove is­land grow­ing on top of an old co­ral reef.

The name Low Is­land came about be­cause Cap­tain Cook de­scribed Low Is­land in his log as a “small low is­land” but it was not un­til 1819 the cay was of­fi­cially called Low Isles by Cap­tain Phillip Parker King on the cut­ter Mer­maid.

Low Isles has al­ways been a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion to study the marine ecosys­tem for its rich diver­sity and in the 1860s a beche- de-mer (sea cum­ber) sta­tion was es­tab­lished.

A light­house was built on the co­ral cay in 1878 at a time when Port Dou­glas was big­ger than Cairns and for 120 years light­house keep­ers and their fam­i­lies lived on the is­land.

Weather data has been col­lected on Low Isles since 1887.

But it wasn’t all peace­ful times on Low Isles. In March of 1907 Wil­liam Han­nah had an al­ter­ca­tion with the light­house keeper and set off to see the har­bour mas­ter in Port Dou­glas.

Han­nah set out in a small row boat of just over two me­tres with his two el­dest chil­dren, 14-year- old Doris and 10-year- old Wil­liam and they dis­ap­peared with­out a trace.

In 1911 three skele­tons were found in the sand dunes at Cape Flat­tery and an ex­am­i­na­tion showed two of the skele­tons were chil­dren and one an adult and it was de­ter­mined the re­mains were of the Han­nahs, leav­ing his wife Ellen wid­owed with five daugh­ters.

Low Isles is the most southerly of 46 co­ral reef plat­forms, which sup­ports both sea grass and man­grove growth, which is the main rea­son that beetween 1928 and 1929 re­searchers landed on Low Isles to con­duct the first de­tailed sci­en­tific study of a co­ral reef any­where in the world.

The ex­pe­di­tion of 20, led by Dr C. M. Yonge, in­volved some of the world’s best sci­en­tists from uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing Ed­in­burgh, Ox­ford and Cam­bridge.

They spent 13 months at Low Isles in­ves­ti­gat­ing co­ral reef zo­ol­ogy, bi­ol­ogy and phys­i­ol­ogy, par­tic­u­larly the phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­search into the feed­ing, di­ges­tion, ab­sorp­tion, ex­cre­tion and me­tab­o­lism of corals.

Re­sults from the ex­pe­di­tion were pub­lished by the British Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, cre­at­ing a set of base­line data which is in­valu­able to­day for com­par­i­son with mod­ern re­search, in or­der to study change on the Great Bar­rier Reef.

A dev­as­tat­ing cy­clone ripped through the area de­stroy­ing out­build­ings on the is­land in March of 1934 and it was not un­til the 1960s the cot­tages were re­placed.

The first cruise to Low Isles oc­curred in 1979 and when the Great Bar­rier Reef was added to the World Her­itage List, which in­cor­po­rated the Low Isles in 1981.

When in 1992, the Aus­tralian Marine Author­ity an­nounced it was re­mov­ing the light­house keeper and mak­ing the light­house au­to­mated, the Low Isles Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety formed to pro­tect the nat­u­ral as­set and the rest is his­tory.

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