Lizard Island National Park: Showcasing the Rich Biological Diversity of the Great Barrier Reef

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Lizard Island (Jingurru) is near the northeastern coast of Australia, part of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s famous for its black marlin fish, making it a top spot for fishing. But it’s not just about fishing; it’s filled with animals and plants both on land and underwater.

The Lizard Island National Park consists of a cluster of six elevated islands is positioned halfway between the coastline and the distant barrier reef. Encircled by coral formations, the islands boast mangrove borders, sandy shores, and are covered in grasslands, woodlands, and wind-affected heaths.

Lizard Island itself covers 1,013 hectares and is filled with, well, lizards. You’ll see the big Gould’s sand monitor and other smaller lizards. The island has eucalyptus trees, grass, and beach plants, making it a good home for these animals. Bird watchers will love it too. Many sea birds, like the White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Osprey, have their nests here.

Underwater World

Dive underwater, and you’ll see a different world. The area is part of the Great Barrier Reef, a huge coral system known for its many kinds of sea life. From September to December, you’ll find the black marlin, a super-fast fish that can weigh over a thousand pounds. Fishers from all over the world come here to try and catch them.

But there’s more than just the marlin. The coral reefs have over 1,500 types of fish and 400 types of coral. You’ll see colorful fish like the parrotfish and angelfish. Plus, six kinds of sea turtles live here, including some that are at risk of going extinct.

Wildlife and Environment

Protecting the Island

Lizard Island is special, so people are working hard to protect it. There’s a research station here where scientists study coral reefs. The island is also a National Park, meaning it’s protected by law. Fishing here follows strict rules, especially for the black marlin, and many fishers catch and then release the fish to keep them safe. 

The Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS), run by the Australia Museum, is a world-leading marine research facility located on Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Managed by the Australian Museum, the station provides a base for scientists and researchers to study the reef and its diverse ecosystems.

Geology & Landscape: Lizard Island, part of a group of islands, was connected to the Australian mainland until about 9,000 years ago when rising sea levels turned it into an island. The predominant pink-grey granite rocks are roughly 300 million years old. These rocks formed deep underground and slowly cooled. Over time, the landscape uplifted, revealing the granite hills we see now. The granite breaks down into infertile sandy soil, and the beaches combine this sand with coral and shell fragments. Remnants of ancient Aboriginal meals, or middens, provide valuable insights into the history of the area.

Plant Life: Lizard Island’s geology and rainfall influence its vegetation. Almost 60% of the island consists of grasslands, with certain grasses adapting to the heat by folding their leaves. Eucalypt and acacia woodlands are found in sheltered areas, while mangroves flourish in salty tidal regions. Behind Watsons Bay, swamps containing paperbark and pandanus benefit from underground rainwater accumulations, supporting diverse wildlife. The coastal areas have dune grasslands and low scrub, which protect against wind erosion.

Marine Ecosystems: The islands boast over 350 species of hard corals. There are steep fringing reefs along Lizard Island’s eastern coast and an extensive reef system on the south coast. Popular snorkeling spot, Clam Gardens in Watsons Bay, showcases large giant clams and various corals. The deeper sandy sea floor is home to specialized marine life, including feather stars and free-living corals. Only 20km east of the island is the continental shelf edge, with ribbon reefs that experience intense ocean conditions.

Wildlife:

  • Birds: Lizard Island National Park is home to over 40 bird species, ranging from seabirds like the white-bellied sea-eagle to land birds like the bar-shouldered dove. Some birds, such as the dollarbird and rainbow bee-eater, visit seasonally, and about 20 species use the island group for nesting.
  • Reptiles: The island is home to 11 lizard species, including the yellow-spotted monitor. Many geckos, skinks, pythons, and tree snakes populate the island, with the brown-headed snake being the only potentially dangerous one. Marine turtles, such as the green and loggerhead turtles, nest on the islands during summer.
  • Mammals: Black flying-foxes and several bat species reside on Lizard Island. The flying-foxes feed on nectar at night and can move around the island or even to the mainland depending on food availability.

This diverse island offers a rich ecosystem both on land and under the water, making it a vital site for the ecological research and conservation.

Aboriginal Heritage of Lizard Island:

The Dingaal Aboriginal people, the traditional owners of Lizard Island which they know as Jiigurru, have resided there for tens of thousands of years. During periods of lower sea levels, the islands were once connected to the mainland.

The Dingaal community has actively collaborated with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for the conservation of Lizard Island National Park, sharing valuable traditional information to enhance visitors’ understanding. Jiigurru holds deep cultural significance for the Dingaal: it served as a site for young boys’ initiation rites, elder meetings, and as a resource base for collecting marine foods.

The Dingaal, like many Aboriginal groups, hold creation stories; one notable tale links the Lizard Island group with the stingray, with Jiigurru as its body and other islands forming the tail.

Places to Stay

If you want to stay on Lizard Island, there’s the Lizard Island Resort. It’s fancy and has everything you’d want: nice rooms, private beaches, and activities like snorkeling and fishing. There’s even a spa. But it’s expensive, and there aren’t many rooms, so book early if you’re interested.

With thanks Queensland Parks and Forest for the above information which we have summarized.

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