James Cook and the Great Barrier Reef

Replica of the HMS Endeavour sailed by Cook

On June 11, 1770, sailor and explorer James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef while running aground and risking his ship, the HMS Endeavour, to sink.

In 1745, James Cook moved away from his English hometown and began his apprenticeship as a grocer, but shortly after proved himself as incompetent for this kind of work. However, he started his increasing interest in the sea and sailing, so James Cook started an apprenticeship at the merchant marine. After graduating, he continued his career at Royal Navy, married Elisabeth Batts, and left for his first voyage a few years later.
The first trip began in August 1768 starting at Plymouth. The original goal of this expedition was the observation of the transit of Venus in 1769. Also Cook was to discover the ‘unknown southern land’.

Commissioner was King George III, who secretly instructed James Cook to take possession of “a Continent or Land of great extent”, also he issued Cookwith the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain “. Their route led through the Atlantic Ocean and around Cape Horn. They stopped in Tahiti in April of 1769, where James Cook was able to trade many useful items. He was always assured that the crew ate fresh meat and vegetables for their health. Actually later on he was the one to establish the provision of Sauerkraut for long overseas journeys to avoid scurvy. Taking a few Tahitians on board, their journey continued to New Zealand, proving it consists of two separate island, and Wollongon, Australia. Sailing along the coast of Australia, they reached the coral reef, 24 miles (38 km) away from land where the ship struck the coral. Cook decided, that only throwing ballast, weapons, and casks over board would lift the ship to prevent a catastrophe. After being able to repair the ship poorly, they managed to reach land. It took them almost two months to completely fix the hole and continue the voyage. Next, they travelled along Indonesia, the Cape of Good Hope, and the island of Saint Helena, they returned to England on 13 July 1771.

The HMS Endeavour was refitted to modern standards before the expedition, also more cabins, a powder room, and storerooms were installed. The ship was 39,7 meters long and had a sail plan of 2,777 square meters, unfortunately it has been scuppered in 1778. Even though the Royal Navy and the Royal Society spent much money and effort in the safety of the ship an expedition like this was highly dangerous and only 56 of the original 95 men returned from the journey.

Over 200 years later, the exploration of coral reefs are still taking place, and even though technical standards came to a much higher level, the explorers still face unpredictable dangers. Nowadays, coral reefs are mostly explored through diving.


At Yovisto, Richard Pyle demonstrates, how his team tries to reveal the secrets of undiscovered species in coral reefs.

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