Great Barrier Reef
Discovery And Exploration
The aborigines (the native people of Australia) undoubtedly were the first discoverers of the Great Barrier Reef. The Chinese probably explored it about 2,000 years ago while searching for marine creatures like the sea cucumber that are believed to have medicinal properties. During his voyage across the Pacific Ocean in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan missed Australia and its Reef. Captain James Cook, the British explorer credited with discovering Australia, also found the Great Barrier Reef by sudden impact. His ship, the Endeavour, ran aground on the Reef on June 11, 1770. Cook's crew unloaded ballast (including cannon now imprisoned in the coral growth) and, luckily, caught a high tide that dislodged the ship from the Reef. After extensive repairs, it took Cook and his crew three months to navigate through the maze-like construction of the Great Barrier Reef. These obstacles did not discourage Cook from exploring and charting the extent of the Reef and its cays, passages, and other intricacies on this first of three expeditions of discovery he undertook to the Reef.
In 1835, Charles Darwin's voyage of scientific discovery on the British ship the Beagle included extensive study of the Reef. Mapping the natural wonder continued throughout the nineteenth century, and, in 1928, the Great Barrier Reef Expedition was begun as a scientific study of coral lifestyles, Reef construction, and the ecology of the Reef. The Expedition's work concluded in 1929, but a permanent marine laboratory on Heron Island within the Reef was founded for scientific explorations and environmental monitoring. The Reef is also the final resting place of a number of ships that sank during World War II.