June 11

Great Barrier Reef Photo Credit: Clipart.com

Today in Science

Discovering the Great Barrier Reef

English explorer and naval officer Captain James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef on this day in 1770 the hard way -- by running aground on it. Cook's ship, The Endeavor, was stuck fast on the reef for an entire day. The crew finally freed the ship by throwing overboard approximately 50 tons of cargo and other items. The badly damaged ship was quickly repaired so that Cook could continue his search for the fabled "southern continent."

Cook and his crew had originally left England on a scientific mission to observe and document an eclipse of Venus. Cook was also given secret, sealed orders by the Royal Navy to be opened after the completion of his scientific mission. These orders directed him to search for a major continent believed by early mapmakers to exist near the southern pole and to claim it for England.

Although Cook did not find a "southern continent" he did explore the coasts of New Zealand and Australia. When he ran into the Great Barrier Reef on this day in 1770, he accidentally made a most important discovery: the largest structure in the world made of living organisms. Today, the Great Barrier Reef is recognized as a site of such environmental importance that it is protected as a World Heritage Site.

Check out these reef-related Science NetLinks resources:

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