National Geographic : 1957 Jan
48 Feather Star Bemuses a Mainland Aborigine The many-rayed feather star, a crinoid, is a surviv fossil times. Some 300,000,000 years ago its ancest among the most abundant of marine animals. Some live in deep waters, permanently attached to by long stalks. This specimen moves freely of shallow waters. Feathery gills crowd each the sea on the arm. rise in various sections of the inner channel. No land was in sight as the sun rose. At eight o'clock Archie Nicolson at the helm of the Shangri-la announced that we were now approaching the outer reefs. Our eyes strained eastward but as yet could see only blue white capped ocean. Creamy Surf Marks Sea Walls "Tide's just beginning to slack," Archie said, checking his watch. "The outer reefs are still covered, but they'll show soon." He throttled back the boat to its slowest pace and stationed a man on the bow for signs of shallowing bottom or coral heads. Half a mile ahead a line of creamy white suddenly began to develop on an otherwise featureless sea. 'or from ors were "There's the inner edge break ing," confirmed Archie, "and if you look on beyond you'll see the ocean pounding at the outer wall." Yes, there was another white surf line developing farther out. Gradually, coral-strewn bottom rose to fill the space between the two lines. Beyond lay the deep, boundless ocean. At this hour of low tide, such great shoals, as well as countless smaller ones, separated by channels, inlets, and even long stretches of sea, were forming all the way from Thursday Island to Heron. Sea birds began dropping from the sky to rest and forage. Few Really Know the Reef We dinghied to the coral's edge and for a while walked on the reef's surface. As with many another such coral surface on which we had wandered, here was fabulous color - coral, clams, sea stars, urchins, cowries. But this day we did no collecting, attempted no long hikes, took few pictures. Our mood was to contem plate the vastness of the forest rather than the intricacy of the trees. This was to be our last visit to the reef, and indeed a very brief one, for because of tide and brewing weather the Shangri-la tarried only an hour or so before starting engines crols and weighing anchor. bottom bottom The Great Barrier Reef is differ ent things to different people, it occurred to me as we set a course due west toward the mainland. There are people who have spent their lives among the Capricorn group; others along the Whitsun day or Hinchinbrook passages, or on the is lands off Townsville or Cairns, Cooktown or Cape York. Many a ship's pilot has spent his entire lifetime navigating the reef's inner waters. Many an aviator has sped through its sky canopy. Many a native islander knows only the life of diving for pearl and trochus. Tourists from the great cities come to Barrier Reef islands for fossicking, fishing, and sun. And now and then throughout the years, in dividuals or teams of scientists have come to conduct research or to collect specimens. But who other than its Creator can ever know the sum of the Great Barrier Reef?