The impacts of coral mining
The coral mining industry was promoted by the Queensland Government and was organised using a system of coral licences, but evidence of additional, unlicensed coral mining was also found. Information about coral mining was obtained from many records of the QDHM and the QEPA. In particular, material was found in the files relating to the preservation of coral from exploitation, the issue of coral licences and the Fish and Oyster Acts, 1914-1935. However, the records held at the QSA begin and end abruptly, with discontinuities between series; archivists at the QSA suggested that other files may have been lost when the Departmental offices in Brisbane were inundated during the Australia Day floods of 27 January 1974. The sequence of coral licences suggests that more areas may have been mined for coral than those specified in the surviving records. Documentary evidence also suggests that unlicensed coral mining occurred in some places, such as Kings Reef, before the system of coral licences was introduced.
Furthermore, oral history informants revealed that coral mining occurred at Snapper Island – a location for which no evidence of a coral licence was found. Therefore, coral mining may have occurred more extensively than this account indicates. Oral sources also provided additional details of the process of coral mining, the infrastructure used in the industry and the impacts that remain in the landscape.1 Although it is difficult to reconstruct the ecological impact of an activity that has long ceased in the Great Barrier Reef, particularly in the context of multiple impacts and environmental changes, it is nonetheless likely that some coral reef areas were substantially transformed by coral mining and they now exist in a highly degraded condition. Other coral reef areas experienced less intensive, yet nevertheless significant, modifications.