Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
In spite of the legal protection of some coral reefs that existed since 1933,
complaints were made about the degradation of reefs by coral collectors. As Bowen
and Bowen (2002) acknowledged, early conservation concerns had already been
expressed by representatives of the Great Barrier Reef Committee (GBRC). The
GBRC was founded in 1922, largely as a result of the efforts of Henry Richards,
Professor of Geology at the University of Queensland, to promote the systematic
scientific investigation of the Great Barrier Reef. The GBRC had two explicit
aims: to investigate the nature and formation of the Great Barrier Reef, and to
develop fuller knowledge of the development and growth of the products of great
economic value in the Great Barrier Reef 'so that the Commonwealth may use
them in the most efficient and wealth-producing manner' (Bowen and Bowen,
2002, p237). The formation of the GBRC followed the Pan-Pacific Scientific
Conference of August 1920, at which the need for a marine biological survey of
the Great Barrier Reef was acknowledged. In 1920, Richards had written to Sir
Matthew Nathan, Governor of Queensland, outlining a programme for Great
Barrier Reef research, including studies of its economic potential. He also argued
for an investigation of the economic resources of the Great Barrier Reef, stating
that 'the exploitation of the economic wealth of the Great Barrier Reef has gone
on and we stand idly by' (cited in Bowen and Bowen, 2002, p234-5).
Richards' views were shared by the eminent reef scientist, Charles Hedley, of
the Australian Museum in Sydney, who argued for the conservation of natural
resources and who warned about the dangers of uncontrolled exploitation of
the Great Barrier Reef. In part, however, these early expressions of conservation
thought were motivated by patriotism and a desire to regulate the activities of
foreign harvesters. Concerns had already been expressed about the degradation of
the Torres Strait pearl fisheries; increasingly, other concerns were expressed that
Government fisheries regulations allowed the exploitation of marine resources
by 'vagrant licensees' until the resource base collapsed. Hedley advocated the
introduction of 'a patriotic policy' with the aim of replacing the 'wandering and
foreign population which subsists on our marine tropical products, by resident
European fishermen' supported in turn by the advancement of science through
zoological research and legislative protection (cited in Bowen and Bowen, 2002,
p234). Hence, during that period, early conservation thought developed due to
motives that were largely protectionist and oriented to the economic development
of Queensland. The GBRC acknowledged that some of the economic resources of
the Great Barrier Reef - in particular, pearl-shell and bĂȘche-de-mer - had already
been heavily exploited; other resources, including 'certain species of reef corals
for bleaching, painting and sale as curios' and 'other kinds of decorative soft
corals', required increased protection from casual depredation (cited in Bowen
and Bowen, 2002, p239).
The increasing engagement of the GBRC with conservation during that period
can be understood in the context of the wider development of the conservation
movement in Queensland. Following a period of unchecked expansion and
exploitation of natural resources during the nineteenth century - and as a result
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