Mining the reefs and cays: coral, guano and rock phosphate extraction in the Great Barrier Reef, 1844-1940

Daley, Ben, and Griggs, Peter (2006) Mining the reefs and cays: coral, guano and rock phosphate extraction in the Great Barrier Reef, 1844-1940. Environment and History, 12 (4). pp. 395-433.

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Scholarly attention has recently focused on the extent of the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef and several authors have attempted to place that decline into historical context. We present documentary and oral history evidence that the extent and severity of mining in the Great Barrier Reef has been hitherto neglected in environmental histories of the ecosystem. Extraction of phosphatic sandstone, guano, rock phosphate and coral from many islands, cays and coral reefs have resulted in extensive transformations of some habitats. In particular, Raine, Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave, North West and Holbourne Islands experienced intensive mining for guano and rock phosphate, while more sustained guano mining took place at Upolu, Oyster and Michaelmas Cays prior to 1940. Coral mining - which has not previously been documented for the Great Barrier Reef - also occurred in at least twelve locations between 1900 and 1940 with the result that thousands of tons of coral were removed from some reefs and pulverised to produce agricultural and industrial lime. This account suggests that historical mining in the Great Barrier Reef has left impacts in the landscape of several islands and cays. Further scientific research and monitoring is required to elucidate the impacts of coral mining, although comparisons with coral mining sites elsewhere in the world suggest that it is reasonable to presume that the impacts of that activity were severe for parts of several reefs, including Snapper Island, Kings and Alexandra Reefs.

Item ID: 4953
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1752-7023
Keywords: agricultural lime; Queensland; Great Barrier Reef; coral mining; guano; rock phosphate
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2009 06:08
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210399 Historical Studies not elsewhere classified @ 60%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050204 Environmental Impact Assessment @ 20%
14 ECONOMICS > 1402 Applied Economics > 140203 Economic History @ 20%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 70%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9699 Other Environment > 969999 Environment not elsewhere classified @ 30%
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