chapter  9
27 Pages

The impacts of coral and shell collecting

This chapter examines the impacts of coral and shell collecting in the Great Barrier Reef, activities that have been comparatively neglected in accounts of the history of the ecosystem, yet which were widespread, cumulative and probably severe for some species. Coral and shell collecting occurred in more places, and for longer periods, than has previously been documented. Four main types of coral and shell collecting occurred in the Great Barrier Reef: informal collecting, scientific collecting, unregulated commercial collecting and licensed collecting. Although individual occurrences of coral and shell collecting were comparatively small and localised in the context of the scale and diversity of coral reefs, the cumulative impact of many collectors, in many places, over a long period of time is likely to have been considerable. In particular, at major tourist centres – such as Hayman, Heron and Green Islands – the degradation of coral reefs was probably severe, with the result that some parts of the Great Barrier Reef were ‘loved to death’ by visitors.1 In addition to the informal removal of coral and shells by visitors to the Great Barrier Reef, commercial coral and shell collecting has been a consistent impact on numerous reefs.