National Geographic : 1957 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine among half-exposed patches of vivid purple coral, side-stepped chartreuse-tinted sea cu cumbers, and avoided open, brightly mantled valves of clams the size of large cantaloupes. In all there were some twenty disembark ing passengers, for Heron Island is not only the site of an incipient marine biology station but also something of a tourist mecca. Welcomed to "Virginia's Island" The other arrivals made for a row of small beach cabins on the north side of the island. We were welcomed by the irresistible smile of a pert little Aussie lass, who led us in the opposite direction. She was Virginia, ten-year-old daughter of Eric and Glenice Hasting, sole residents of Heron save for the Poulsons who ran the tourist establishment. Their bungalow, with one wall made of glass louvers, enjoys a marvelous view over the reef to the southwest. We were to eat at Mrs. Hasting's table and sleep on cots in the laboratory. During six weeks on Heron Island, we saw not a single heron, though terns and shear- waters abounded. In retrospect, I prefer to think of it as Virginia's Island, for this golden-haired youngster-perhaps a bit lonely -joined us almost every day in patrolling the island's soft beaches, snorkeling and div ing in the transparent waters, exploring the reef, and wandering through the luxuriant jungle of Pisonia trees (pages 2 and 38). Virginia Hasting knew the secrets of Heron Island. In early evening she would sometimes take us to a sand bluff overlooking the sea and point out the Southern Cross lying on its side near the horizon; later she would sit with us on the darkened beach, hoping to sight the outlines of a giant turtle coming ashore to lay its eggs in the sand. But this was September, and the logger heads and greens were not due until late Octo ber; so after watching for perhaps half an hour, seeing the black shapes of sharks and rays but no turtles, we would get up and chase ghost crabs along the beach with an electric torch. Caught in the beam of light, they would skitter to the water's edge and vanish by digging themselves into the wet sand. Petal-like Tentacles of Coral Polyps Reach for Food V- Coral lives in all seas, even as far north as Norway's fjords, but the reef-building varieties thrive in tropic shal lows. These primitive animals, long mistaken for plants, are cousins of the jellyfish. Corals are free-swimming only as em bryos. Early in life the tube like polyps imprison themselves in limestone castles secreted, as a rule, on their ancestors' skele tons. Ultimately the coral cata combs are cemented into dense masses by rock-hard coralline algae (page 8). These cups, magnified five diameters, are the building stones of the reef. Others like them have erected enormous atolls. By day most corals shrink into their stone houses. At night, when the tide is up, they extend tentacles to catch and poison plankton and carry it to their mouths.