Family Islands National Park
Park Overview
A chain of scenic continental islands, close to the Wet Tropics coast near Mission Beach. Clad in lush rainforest and woodlands and surrounded by coral reefs, tidal flats and sandy beaches, the islands were home to the original ‘beachcomber’, E.J. Banfield.
Animals
Over 100 species of birds have been recorded on Dunk Island. Easily seen in the forests are the large mound-builders—orange-footed scrubfowl and black Australian brush-turkeys that incubate their eggs in mounds of rotting vegetation. These contrast with tiny olive-backed sunbirds which feast on the nectar of flowers. Secretive emerald doves, with their brown heads and emerald green wings, forage for fruit on the forest floor. Large, majestic ospreys, with their distinctive white heads and chests and dark brown backs, fly above the sea looking for fish below.The islands are also home to several rare or vulnerable seabirds. Just off-shore from Dunk Island is Purtaboi Island—a refuge for thousands of seabirds. During the summer months, the island becomes a creche as seabirds such as terns and noddies breed. Most seabirds nest in the sand or in low bushes. Lesser crested terns and bridled terns nest in a scrape in the sand while common noddies nest on an untidy shallow pile of seaweed, twigs and grass. Such nesting behaviour makes them vulnerable to predators such as pigs, dogs, goats and people. The lack of mainland predators, along with a plentiful supply of fish and small invertebrates from the surrounding reef waters, make islands such as Mound (Purtaboi) important seabird breeding sites.Many species of reptiles are also found on Dunk Island, including harmless pythons and tree snakes as well as saw-shelled turtles in freshwater creeks. There are also monitors, geckos and skinks. The island's few mammals—the fawn-footed melomys (small native rodents) and several species of bats and flying-foxes—are seen or heard mostly at night. Dunk Island's best-known insects are the Ulysses butterflies. Metallic blue and black wings make these beautiful butterflies impossible to miss against the rainforest backdrop. Green and black Cairns birdwing butterflies are also present on Dunk Island. Fish are present in the freshwater creeks on Dunk Island. Jungle perch, rainbow fish, Pacific blue-eye, snakehead gudgeon, speckled and spot-finned gobies, and long finned eels may be seen.Proximity of creeks, rainforests, eucalypt forests, rocky shore, reef flat and mangroves provides an ideal situation for nature watching and allows insight into the importance of these island national parks as wildlife refuges.Life in the surrounding reef waters is just as fascinating as that seen on the islands. Sea turtles and dugongs can sometimes be observed feeding in shallow water seagrass meadows between the islands. Closer to shore, mangrove communities and extensive intertidal areas provide feeding grounds for many seabirds. The fringing reefs are home to a diverse array of marine life such as corals, fish, shellfish and crabs.
History of the Area
Dunk Island, known as Coonanglebah, is traditionally shared between Bandjin, saltwater people whose sea country extends down to Hinchinbrook Island, and Djiru, mainland people from the coastal area around Mission Beach. They have lived in this area for tens of thousands of years. Before the sea level rise began about 8000 years ago, what today is reef was a coastal plain known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as 'eastern grey (kangaroo) country'. After the sea level rise, the plain was submerged and hills on the plain became the Family Islands. Aboriginal people then paddled to the islands in bark canoes, making use of the strong tidal currents to collect, hunt and gather the islands' rich resources for food and materials. Where rivers once coursed across the coastal plain, today they run under the seabed and, in places, fresh water wells up into the sea water. Knowledge of these sites is passed on through traditional stories. Today, paintings in rock shelters—images of turtles, birds, echidnas and fish—and shell middens provide tangible evidence of the Aboriginal peoples' long association with the island. Despite the many changes since European settlement, the Djiru and Bandjin peoples still retain a strong connection to Dunk Island and take part in its management. An important creation story for the island is that of Girroo Gurrull, an Aboriginal ancestral spirit, part man but mostly eel, who named islands and local waters in his travels.
Camping
The camping area on Dunk Island is managed by Dunk Island Resort.  Bookings can be made online at www.dunk-island.com. Fees apply.Bush camping is available on Wheeler and Coombe islands.Camping permits are required and fees apply.Campers on Coombe and Wheeler islands must be self-sufficient with their own drinking water, fuel stoves and rubbish bags.
Plants
The Family Islands are continental islands composed mostly of granite. Before the last sea level rise began 8000 years ago they were part of the mainland. Prevailing winds and currents have formed sand spits on the north-western sides of most of the islands. From the sea, the Family Islands appear to be cloaked in a mosaic of lush green vegetation. Vegetation is influenced by the prevailing winds and rainfall.Dunk Island supports a mosaic of rainforest (mostly complex mesophyll vine forest) in gullies and on the wetter slopes. On the drier exposed ridges, there are relatively open transitional forests with eucalypt emergents and rainforest understorey including many palms and thick, looping, coiled lianas. The boundary between forest types is never distinct. Mangrove communities are present on the south side of the island where there is protection from the prevailing winds. An area of wind-sheared heath is present on the north-eastern headland of the island. Mung-Um-Gnackum and Kumboola islands support rainforest and transitional forests with eucalypt emergents. Fringing communities also support mangrove and pandanus species.On Wheeler, Coombe, Smith, Bowden and Hudson islands, stunted woodlands of casuarinas, wattles and eucalypts grow between tumbled slabs of granite on the windswept south-eastern sides of the islands. Lush rainforests are home to species such as figs, palms, milky pines and satin ash trees that grow on the sheltered northern sides. The southern Family Islands support rainforest species, including the rare palm, Arenga australasica.
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