A blast from the past – Giant clams at the Great Barrier Reef Expedition 1928-29!

I love uncovering treasures of the past! When I was researching for my last article on the boring giant clams, I came across a trove of old film photographs made by the expedition team to the Great Barrier Reef in 1928-29! No doubt – I went straight to dig out all of the giant clam images by going through each of the images – hehe!

The other reason that led me to this collection was Sir Charles Maurice Yonge (December 1899 – March 1986), whose early research on the giant clams gave us insights on today’s discoveries! This expedition was renown as it contributed important knowledge of corals and ecology of coral reefs and its reef inhabitants. I found this lovely summary of the expedition on the National Library of Australia:

Collection comprises Sir Charles Maurice Yonge’s personal photographic record of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1928-1929, when he was appointed leader at the age of 28 years. The expedition’s main part of twelve scientists, including his new wife Mattie, as medical officer, arrived at Low Isles on 16 July 1928 to begin their thirteen months of research. Pioneering research was undertaken on the relationship between corals and giant clams. The collection includes four albums containing images of Port Douglas, Cairns, Kuranda, Daintree, Magnetic Island, flora and fauna, Canberra, Sydney, Thursday Island and nearby islands, the Low Islands, corals, Oceania and the United States of America. The Mattie Yonge album which was a presentation album commemorating the Australian Museum team’s participation in the expedition.”

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Sir Charles M. Yonge and wife, Mattie at the 1928-29 Great Barrier Reef Expedition. Credit: National Library of Australia.

Sir Yonge is like my hero – he was one of the first scientists who took a closer look at the general ecology of giant clams! His seminal papers on their behaviour, anatomy, physiology, etc… formed the foundation of much giant clam research to come – until today! Here shows one of the research papers that came out of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition: Mode of life, feeding, digestion and symbiosis with zooxanthellae in the Tridacnidae.

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Not forgetting Sir Yonge’s collection of giant clams that he spied during the expedition. I am pleasantly happy to see that the species Hippopus hippopus used to be common on intertidal flats, and you could just count them from afar!

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Sometimes, I wish I had a time machine to send me back for just a short moment to see these sights again. For now, these photos will do for me – thank you, Sir Yonge for capturing these precious moments!

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