World Heritage Places - Fraser Island

Queensland

Overview

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values. It features complex dune systems that are still evolving, and an array of rare and unique features in this sand environment, including dune lakes and tall rainforests.

Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992.

Fraser Island was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.

Gallery

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More images of Fraser Island from the Australian Heritage Photographic Library

More information

Location

Stretching over 120 kilometres along the southern coast of Queensland and covering 1,840 km2, it is the largest sand island in the world.

Description of place

A place of exceptional beauty, it is characterised by its long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, its majestic tall rainforests and numerous freshwater lakes of crystal clear waters.

The massive sand deposits that make up the island are a continuous record of climatic and sea level changes over the past 700,000 years.

Fraser Island features complex dune systems that are still evolving, and an array of dune lakes that is exceptional in its number, diversity and age.

The highest dunes on the island reach up to 240 metres above sea level. Forty perched dune lakes, half the number of such lakes in the world, can be found on the island. These lakes are formed when organic matter, such as leaves, bark and dead plants, gradually builds up and hardens in depressions created by the wind.

Fraser Island also has several barrage lakes, formed when moving sand dunes block a watercourse, and 'window' lakes, formed when a depression exposes part of the regional water table.

A surprising variety of vegetation types grow on the island, ranging from coastal heath to subtropical rainforests. It is the only place in the world where tall rainforests are found growing on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres.

The low 'wallum' heaths on the island are of particular evolutionary and ecological significance, providing magnificent wildflower displays in spring and summer.

Birds are the most abundant form of animal life on the island, with more than 350 species recorded. It is a particularly important site for migratory wading birds, which use the area as a resting place during their long flight between southern Australia and their breeding grounds in Siberia.

A species of particular interest is the endangered ground parrot, which is found in the wallum heathlands.

Few mammal species are present on the island. The most common are bats, particularly flying foxes. The dingo population on the island is regarded as the most pure strain of dingoes remaining in eastern Australia.

The unique lakes and patterned fens on Fraser Island are poor habitats for fish and other aquatic species because of the purity, acidity and low nutrient levels of the water. Some frog species are adapted to survive in this difficult environment. Appropriately called 'acid frogs', they tolerate the acidic conditions characteristic of the Fraser Island lakes and swamps.

Called K'gari by its Aboriginal inhabitants, the island reveals Aboriginal occupation of at least 5,000 years, although it is possible that further archaeological work may indicate earlier occupation. Early European reports suggested that Fraser Island was heavily populated by Aboriginal people, but subsequent research indicates that there was a small permanent population of 400-600 that swelled seasonally to perhaps 2000-3000 in the winter months when seafood resources were particularly abundant. Fraser Island contains many sites of archaeological, social and spiritual significance. Middens, artefact scatters, fish traps, scarred trees and campsites bear witness to the lives of the original inhabitants.

European contact, initiated by Matthew Flinders in 1802, was sporadic and limited to explorers, escaped convicts and shipwreck survivors. In 1836 a number of survivors of the wrecked ship Stirling Castle lived for about six weeks on the island before being rescued. One of the survivors was Eliza Fraser, wife of the ship’s captain, after whom Europeans named the island.

Day-to-day management of Fraser Island is the responsibility of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency.

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