Low Isles prime reef
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.