Cook, Darwin and Coral Reefs

Our understanding of coral and coral reefs, believes C.M. Yonge, was greatly advanced by the voyages of Cook and Darwin to the South Pacific.

Last year we commemorated the bicentenary of the death of Captain James Cook, RN, FRS, at the hands of the Polynesian inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, In many respects the most impressive of the many discoveries made by this greatest of British navigators in the Pacific Ocean was that of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This is by far the largest of all coral formations and it is in the context of the importance of corals and coral reefs that we consider the significance of the voyages of Cook, and later Darwin, in the Pacific Ocean.

Cook left England for the Pacific on August 26th, 1768 in command of HMS Endeavour , a one-time Whitby collier. He was bound initially for Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, a rare event due to take place there on June 3rd, 1769. The Royal Society was anxious to obtain more precise information about the distance of the earth from the sun. This was a matter of considerable significance for navigation and for that reason of like interest to the Admiralty which was also not uninterested in the activities of other nations, notably France, in these remote South Seas.

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