p213). Hopley (1982, pp335, 337) regarded the damage to Raine Island as probably
the most devastating impact on any of the islands of the outer Great Barrier Reef;
the island was 'completely altered' by the removal of the guano.
In addition to the operation at Raine Island, guano mining took place in
the Capricorn-Bunker Group of islands, where profound impacts on vegetation
were sustained as a result of the industry. During the 1890s, guano mining was
carried out at Fairfax, North West and Lady Musgrave Islands, and evidence of
In particular, extensive guano mining occurred at Fairfax Islands (which form a
double island); one report by a National Parks Ranger, written in 1936, stated that
the island 'has been worked very extensively many years ago and large quantities
1936, all of the commercially viable guano had been removed, and he reported
that the mining had extended over almost the entire island and only a few acres
in the centre of the island remained undisturbed: this central part formed the
only section of the island where any vegetation remained, which consisted only
of Pisonia umbellifera .
One account of guano mining at Fairfax, North West and Lady Musgrave
Islands was provided by Ellis (1936, p162), who stated that:
Fairfax Island was a difficult place to work […]. The phosphate guano too
was much mixed with immense quantities of coral slabs and shingle; the
large piles of this material left on the island are good evidences as to the
amount of labour we put in. Operations on a minor scale were carried on at
Lady Musgrave at the same time, a ketch being employed to lighter cargoes
across to the sailing vessels loading at the other island. […]. A prospecting
trip round the Capricorn Group was carried out on the cutter Lorna Doone
during 1898. Deposits of medium quality were found on North-West Island.
These were worked when Fairfax was finished.
Of those three islands, particular degradation occurred at North West Island,
which was mined from 1898-1900, as the QNPWS (1999a, p5) acknowledged.
Golding (1979, p90) reported that the labour force comprised 107 Asian
workers and five Europeans, and the infrastructure included a tramway that was
laid across the island and a jetty that was built to the edge of the reef (see also
Brisbane Courier , 9 February 1900; Lawrence et al., 2002, p20). In November
1899, 550 tons of guano were shipped on the Van Royal and another boat - the
Silas - carried 1,100 tons from the island. Golding (1979, pp90-1) stated that, by
February 1900, a total of 4,146 tons of guano had been removed from the island:
most of that was exported to New Zealand. During his visit to North West Island
in 1936, Steers (1938, p65) observed 'noticeable erosion' of the cay that had
been exacerbated, he suggested, by the removal of guano. The impacts of guano
mining caused Heatwole (1984, p28) to describe North West Island as 'the most
disturbed of the uninhabited islands' in the Capricorn-Bunker Group.