Lady Musgrave Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef

Ocean Child travelled from New Caledonia to Bundaberg in Queensland. My crew Kyra and David left for Melbourne, and Anna (Holland) arrived on October 6, 2016. We left the same day for Lady Musgrave Island (Musgrave for short). Just as a matter of interest, the island was named after a woman, a rich and well-connected woman, who strongly opposed the woman's vote, and campaigned against it.

Musgrave really is a very special place. Like a phoenix, Musgrave has risen from the ashes of destruction, to become a place of beauty and tranquillity, much loved by the animals which have returned, and also much loved by its many human visitors. By the late 1890s, a turtle soup manufacturer, as well as the introduction of goats, had devastated both the turtle population (as well as the fishes and birds of the island) and the pisonia forests. Almost nothing remained of the original island ecosystem. Today, it is very different.

 

As you can see, the island is tiny, less than 500m wide, but the lagoon is large and well protected from swell. On our arrival, there were 21 other vessels, mainly cruisers like us, anchored in the lagoon. There was lots of space... you could put 100 yachts in this lagoon.

These photos also show that the cay (the island) is well vegetated... mostly with pisonia forest. Apparently 70% of the world's pisonia forests lie within the islands of the Southern Great Barrier Reef... specifically the Bunker and Capricornia island groups. Musgrave is part of the Bunker Group. Given the small size of these islands, it's clear that the world has only a tiny amount of these magical forests.

The island's soil started off, obviously, as just broken coral... here (above and below) you can see the pisonia forest is doing very well, with a lot of leaf litter on the soil surface.

The absence of understorey is also remarkable, although at the west end of the island there seems to be a lot of weedy ground cover, including a small amount of a nasty thorn burr. The photo below was taken in this area, and shows old turtle nesting burrows. The trees are not pisonia, but casuarinas.

 

Rails (below) search the forest leaf litter for food... The rails nest here, suggesting that introduced rats and mice are probably absent.

The most numerous inhabitants of the pisonia forest are the hooded noddies (below) who come to Musgrave at this time of year to mate and nest...

Most of the birds seem unperturbed by the sticky sap of the pisonias...

They sunbathe in groups... another visitor said he thought that this might be a measure to control lice. The birds certainly do a lot of preening while in the sun.

As you can see (above) the noddies have no hesitation in flying directly towards the camera...

A pair of sea eagles has taken up residence on the island, and can be most often found at the west end, perched in a tree or the lighthouse tower. In the photo below, an eagle is sitting in the dead tree at the centre of the photo... yes, she is hard to see... so I came back later with a different camera...

... to take another photo...

 

Unfortunately (in my opinion) Musgrave is almost all zoned "general use" within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area... and line fishing and spear fishing are allowed.  So the large fish, like grouper, and the pelagics which often visit reef areas, have mostly gone, or rather perhaps not returned after being fished out many years ago. But there are still a reasonable number of small fish.. and in fact in this regard the shallow waters of Musgrave are much healthier than most reefs we visited in Tonga and Fiji.

There is a lot of healthy coral around the lagoon...

All these areas are easy to access by dinghy...

Even the jelly-fish are beautiful...

There are lots (compared with Fiji and Tonga waters) of small clams, each with its brilliantly coloured mantle...

No two clams seem to have the same colouring...

And sea cucumbers....

...again absent in most waters of the Pacific islands, where once they were abundant...

 

Schools of small fish come in over the reef flat with the rising tide... These schools are exceptionally beautiful to watch, hundreds of fish moving in unison, guided, as it were, by some unseen hand...

There are many rays and a few reef sharks. Unfortunately the reef sharks were very shy (no doubt they knew about the zoning) and we were not able to photograph them.

 

And tiny blue fish, each one looking as though it was lit from the inside with electric light...

 

There were many green turtles in the shallow waters of the lagoon. The green turtle is the most common species in Australia.

These too are generally missing over most Pacific Island waters... so it was good to see them here, calm about being approached by swimmers.

October and November are apparently the times when the green turtles mate and lay eggs.  We were not lucky enough (or patient enough) to see any egg-laying, but there were a lot of turtles mating in and around the lagoon. Most chose the lagoon's calm waters, but some found the shallow water of the beach more convenient... Luckily the females are presumably not worried about having to hold their breath...

 

Meanwhile, the terns (below) were unconcerned... even though their crests made it look as though they were all having a bad hair day...

 

We left Musgrave on October 9, with the intention of returning to Bundaberg Port Marina via Pancake Creek, a protected harbour on the nearby mainland. See the separate photo page for Pancake Creek.

We left Pancake Creek on the evening of October 10, arriving at Bundaberg Port Marina on the morning of October 11.

 

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