Cultural Aspects on The Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is important in the history and culture of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, intrinsically linked for over 60,000 years.  

The Great Barrier Reef we see today has grown on top of older reef platforms during the last 8000 years – since the last Ice Age.  Prior to the sea level rise and the Reef forming, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived on what is now the seafloor.

Important cultural sites and values exist along the reefs and islands of the Great Barrier Reef and animals such as dugongs and turtles have long been part of Aboriginal dreaming.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have spiritual or cultural affiliations with a site or area in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, or are holders of native title with that site or area, and are entitled to undertake activities under custom or tradition, are termed Traditional Owners.

In European history, Captain James Cook was the first to record written descriptions of the Great Barrier Reef during his voyage up the eastern coast of the Australia in the HMS Endeavour, 1770.

The Endeavour ran aground on a small reef Cape Tribulation and eventually travelled 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.

In another exploration voyage between 1801 and 1803, Matthew Flinders named the reef the Great Barrier Reef. He 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 around 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 (beche de mer) fisherman and Japanese pearl divers also frequented the waters of the Great Barrier Reef in the 19th and early 20th century.

Diving Cairns acknowledges the Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Owners of the land and sea country of the Great Barrier Reef and extend this respect to all First Nation people.