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Cultural Aspects

Human involvement with the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area began thousands of years before Captain Cook struck a reef near the current site of Cooktown. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have fished and hunted its waters, navigated between the islands of its coast.

Australia's aboriginal people not only know of the existence of the Reef, they had large outrigger canoes that enabled them to travel to the islands and outer reefs. They moved their settlements up and down the coast for thousands of years before the coming of the Europeans.

The Great Barrier Reef is important in the history and culture of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Important cultural sites and values exist on many islands and reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Region. Animals such as dugongs and turtles have long been part of Aboriginal dreaming and are important in many aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture.

Captain James Cook is the first person to record the existence of a reef as he sailed up the eastern coast of the continent. He first noticed shoals in the vicinity of Great Keppel Island, but managed to continue north through the Whitsunday Passage, christening features and islands along the way. The Endeavour finally ran aground on a small reef Cape Tribulation, and only expert seamanship enabled the ship to limp more than 70km to the mouth of a river where repairs could be made. Today the river is called Endeavour, and the settlement on its banks is Cooktown.

After all repairs were done, Cook decided to try for the open sea, but could not find a way through the natural barrier. He sailed north to Lizard Island. Landing on the island, he and his botanist, Joseph Banks, climbed to its highest point and were able to see a break in the reef large enough to permit the passage of the Endeavour. This is known as Cook's Passage.

It was Matthew Flinders who named the reef the Great Barrier Reef and it was he who charted a safe passage through by sending small boats ahead to sound the depths. This passage is still known as Flinder's Passage.

There are 30 shipwreck sites of historic importance known to exist on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as a number of historically significant lighthouses and World War II sites. Chinese sea cucumber fisherman and Japanese pearl divers also frequented the waters of the Great Barrier Reef in the 19th and early 20th century.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is committed to the identification, protection and maintenance of both indigenous and non-indigenous culturally and historically significant sites throughout the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

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Diving Cairns - Cairns, Queensland 4870 Australia | Phone: (07) 4041 7536 | E-mail:
Diving Cairns - The ultimate guide to a diving holiday on North Queensland's Great Barrier Reef