Wuthara Island National Park (CYPAL) Tropical North Queensland

Nature, culture and history

    Natural environment

    Wuthara Island National Park (CYPAL) has a windswept landscape. Rocky headlands and exposed ridges are interspersed with stunted shrubs, grassland and resilient termite mounds. The islands are formed of pink, biotite granite and the main island reaches a height of 88 metres.

    A marine turtle track.

    Marine turtle track, Wuthara Island National Park (CYPAL).

    Photo credit: Queensland Government

    Termite mounds.

    Photo credit: Queensland Government

    The vegetation is typical of islands found off this part of the coast. Shrubs of wattles, melaleuca and grevillea cover much of the main island with intervening areas of native grassland. Deciduous vine-thickets grow in the gullies and mangroves occur intermittently around the shoreline.

    A mix of terrestrial and seabirds roost and feed in the park. Pied imperial-pigeons Ducula bicolor, black-naped terns Sterna sumatrana and white-bellied sea-eagles Haliaeetus leucogaster nest on the main island. White-bellied sea-eagles form permanent pairs and mate for life. They live and hunt in the same area throughout the year. Listen for their duets of goose-like calls in the mornings or evenings and watch them form a powerful dive for their prey of fish, birds or offal during the day.

    Other birds that may be seen include the sooty tern Onychoprion fuscata, crested tern Thalasseus bergii, endangered little tern Sternula albifrons, black noddy Anous minutus, mangrove golden whistler Pachycephala melanura, bar-shouldered dove Geopelia humeralis, silvereye Zosterops lateralis, sacred kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus, orange-footed scrubfowl Megapodius reinwardt, white-breasted woodswallow Artamus leucorynchus and the vulnerable beach stone-curlew Esacus magnirostris.

    There are 120 hectares of fringing reef rich in marine life surrounding the islands. Shallow and deepwater seagrass beds also occur in the waters around the park and dugong have been seen in coastal areas nearby. Vulnerable green and hawksbill turtles are known to visit the islands.

    Culture and history

    Traditional Owner culture

    The Kuuku Ya’u people are the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Wuthara Island National Park (CYPAL). The islands in this park are of great cultural significance to the Kuuku Ya’u people.

    In 2009, the Federal Court determined that the Kuuku Ya’u people are the native title holders of these islands. This determination formally recognised the native title rights of the Kuuku Ya’u people to use and maintain these islands under their traditional laws and customs and protect those places and areas from harm. At this time, the Northern Kuuku Ya’u Kanthanampu Aboriginal Corporation was established as the registered native title body corporate (RNTBC) for the area described in this determination.

    In 2011, the land in this park was transferred as Aboriginal freehold land to the Northern Kuuku Ya’u Kanthanampu Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC Land Trust. The Wuthara Island National Park (CYPAL) was then dedicated over the land.

    The Land Trust manages the park jointly with the Queensland Government in accordance with an Indigenous Management Agreement.

    Cultural awareness and protocol videos

    As part of the ongoing commitments to strengthen relationships with Traditional Owners in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the Queensland Government, in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, is developing cultural awareness and protocol videos about the principles of visiting and working respectfully on Country.

    These videos highlight the intrinsic connection that Traditional Owners have to their Country while also providing them with an opportunity to share their stories, personal insights, experiences and cultural guidance for working on Country.

    European history

    Wuthara Island was previously named Forbes Island by Lieutenant James Cook on 19 August 1770, after Admiral John Forbes, Commissioner of Longiture (1768). European’s first arrived on the main island in the 1800s when camps were set up to work on opportunistic salvage of shipwrecks. Wreck Bay, a notorious area for navigation in the 1800s, is north-east of the islands—making them a strategic location for wreckers to collect stores and gear from abandoned hulks.

    The grave of Frederick Lancaster.

    Photo credit: Queensland Government

    Since then a number of leases have existed on the main island and evidence of these still remain. At the northern beach of the island, a coconut plantation still exists along with building ruins and various bottles, pots and other relics scattered about the area. This lease was signed to the Lancaster family who resided on the island until the 1940s. The grave of Frederick Lancaster, who died on the island in August 1912, is located nearby. Herb gardens, lemon trees and paw paws were all planted here once. Today, an original stone pitched water-well still provides fresh water about 100 metres from the beach.