Fraser Island

Since 1992 • Natural

Fraser Island lies just off the east coast of Australia. At 122 km long, it is the largest sand island in the world. Majestic remnants of tall rainforest growing on sand and half the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes are found inland from the beach. The combination of shifting sand-dunes, tropical rainforests and lakes makes it an exceptional site.

Fraser Island lies just off the east coast of Australia. Stretching over 120 km along the southern coast of Queensland, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world.

It is a place of exceptional beauty, with long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, majestic tall rainforests and numerous freshwater lakes of crystal-clear waters.

The massive sand deposits that make up the island are a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the past 700,000 years.

Fraser Island features complex dune systems that are still evolving, and an array of dune lakes that is exceptional in its number, diversity and age.

The highest dunes on the island reach up to 260 m above sea level. 40 perched dune lakes can be found on the island. These lakes are formed when organic matter, such as leaves, bark and dead plants, gradually build up and harden in depressions created by the wind.

The island also has several barrage lakes, formed when moving sand dunes block a watercourse, and 'window' lakes, formed when a depression exposes part of the regional water table.

A surprising variety of vegetation types grow on the island, ranging from coastal heath to subtropical rainforests. It is the only place in the world where tall rainforests, up to 50 m high, are found growing on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 m.

Birds are the most abundant form of animal life on the island with over 230 species being recorded. It is a particularly important site for migratory wading birds which use the area as a resting place during their long flights between southern Australia and their breeding grounds in Siberia. A species of particular interest is the endangered ground parrot, which is found in the wallum heath lands.

Few mammal species are present on the island. The most common are bats, particularly flying foxes. The dingo population on the island is regarded as the most pure strain of dingoes remaining in eastern Australia.

The lakes on Fraser Island are poor habitats for fish and other aquatic species because of the purity, acidity and low nutrient levels of the water. Some frog species are adapted to survive in this difficult environment. Appropriately called 'acid frogs', they tolerate the acidic condition characteristic of the Fraser Island lakes and swamps.

The earliest date for the occupation of Fraser Island is currently 1,500-2,000 years. Visible remains of Aboriginal settlement include middens, canoe and gunyah trees, and a few other markings such as scars where bees' nests have been removed. The Badtjala and Kabi Kabi groups of Aboriginal people have cultural and other traditional affiliations with the area. European contact, initiated by Matthew Flinders in 1802, was sporadic and limited to explorers, escaped convicts and shipwreck survivors.

Historical context

In 1860 Fraser Island was gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve. The reserve was largely revoked two years later following the discovery of valuable stands of timber. The remnant Aboriginal reserve was revoked in 1906, after the Aborigines were removed from Fraser Island. In 1908 the central part of Fraser Island was declared a forestry reserve, and by 1925 most of the island had been set aside as state forest. Fraser Island (Great Sandy National Park) (74,900ha), was gazetted in 1971.

The remainder of Fraser Island consists predominantly of vacant Crown land of 78,404ha in public ownership, which has been proposed as a National Park extension subject to resolution of Aboriginal Land interests. Parts of this have been effectively managed for conservation purposes, and prior to the Commission of Inquiry had been proposed for 'preservation zoning' (DASET, 1991; A.Turner, pers.comm., 1992).

The Fraser Island (Great Sandy Region) was accepted as a natural World Heritage Site in 1992, on the basis of criteria (ii) and ( iii ).

Legislation is proposed to cover the whole area nominated, as a regional park (DASET, 1991).

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