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A multitude of human activities and impacts
This topic provides an environmental history of the coral reefs, islands and marine
wildlife of the Great Barrier Reef. In doing so, it presents evidence of a multitude
of human activities in, and impacts on, that ecosystem. Not all of the important
activities and impacts that have affected the Great Barrier Reef are covered
here; some - such as human impacts on fish populations, as well as the effects of
shipping, dredging and port development in the region - require further research
to document their significance. Nevertheless, it has been possible to reconstruct
a wide range of activities and impacts, based on the use of documentary and oral
sources. Many of those activities and impacts involved the over-exploitation of
living resources. The historical fisheries for bêche-de-mer , pearl-shell and trochus,
some of which dated from at least 1827, caused sustained and intensive impacts
on those marine resources, particularly during their early, unregulated periods of
operation (Chapter 5) . As a result of over-harvesting, reports of the scarcity of
bêche-de-mer were made as early as 1890; by 1908, the severe depletion of bêche-
de-mer and pearl oysters had been recognised, and restrictions of those fisheries
became necessary. However, continued fishing for those resources meant that, by
1950, the bêche-de-mer , pearl-shell and trochus resources of the Great Barrier Reef
were almost certainly significantly degraded from their status prior to European
settlement, and those resources may not yet have recovered.
Sadly, if predictably, a similar pattern characterised the other historical
fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef. Severe impacts on marine turtles - especially
hawksbill and green turtles - were sustained due to the operation of the tortoise-
shell industry (which had commenced by the 1860s) and the commercial green
turtle fisheries (particularly during the 1920s and 1930s); those impacts were
exacerbated by the effects of turtle-riding, turtle farming (during the 1970s) and
Indigenous hunting of turtles (Chapter 6). Similarly, dugongs were exploited in
Queensland waters since 1847 by commercial fisheries (which resulted in the
reported local scarcity of the animals by 1888), and their effects were compounded
by additional fishing to supply dugong oil to Indigenous settlements, as well as
by Indigenous hunting of dugongs (Chapter 7) . East Australian humpback whale
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