What it’s like to grow up on an Island in the Great Barrier Reef

My name is Jemma Craig, I’m 25 years old and grew up on a tiny sand cay off the coast of Tropical North Queensland.

My story started a long time ago… My Grandfather, George Craig, used to be a wild crocodile hunter in Papua New Guinea in the 60’s. In 1972 he quit hunting and brought all of the giant crocodiles that he had captured over the years to Green Island, a small Island off Cairns; which is where he set up a crocodile and marine life habitat and museum, and called it Marineland Melanesia. 

  My Grandfather George Craig teaches me about Papua New Guinean traditions 

We have around 30 crocodiles at the zoo from all different ages, including Cassius – the Guinness World Record’s “Largest Crocodile in Captivity in the World”

We have around 30 crocodiles at the zoo from all different ages, including Cassius – the Guinness World Record’s “Largest Crocodile in Captivity in the World”

Green Island is a pretty unique place, it’s actually the only sand cay on the Great Barrier Reef (out of about 300) with a rain forest growing on it. Located about 27 kilometers off the coast of Cairns, Today Green Island is a popular tourist destination, averaging around 300,000 tourists a year.

My dad lived in Papua New Guinea until he was 12 before coming to Green Island and settling in for the long haul. He met my mum on the Island when they were 18 years old, she had moved from the city of Brisbane for a job at the Green Island Resort. My mum and dad started a life with one another and decided they liked the Island lifestyle, so together they bought half of the zoo and got to work starting a family of their own


Dad and I on the jetty at Green Island. The Tractor in the background belongs to us, It helps us transport supplies around the Island


My brother Billy and I take our bikes every morning to meet the tourists as they arrive

I lived on Green Island until I was 12 years old, all of my Primary schooling was done through Distance Education – School of the Air. My classmates were all kids that lived with unique situations, such as boys on rural cattle farms in the middle of the outback, or girls on tiny islands in the middle of the ocean. It was very well set up, we had a home tutor to help us work through booklets sent from the School, and we would talk to our teachers every school day for half an hour over two way radio.

My family has lived on Green Island for over 40 years now, we are the only private permanent residents. When I was growing up my brother Billy and I were the only kids who lived on the island, so we kind of had to make our own fun (although that wasn’t hard). We swam before we could walk, we were friends with the fishes and the seagulls, we built stick empires in the rain forest and we created anything a kid would ever need out of sand.

 My Grandfather’s boat – the Scowmac

   Playing in the sand

All I would ever want to do would be explore… I was driven by the natural world around me. The Marine life and ocean birds fascinated me growing up, so I spend as much time as I possibly could on the beach; exploring and finding shells, and snorkeling or diving the reefs surrounding the Island.

We would see dolphins and whales and ride our boat out to meet them… I remember watching turtles laying eggs on the beach and later when they hatched; watching the babies scramble for the ocean. We kept injured birds or babies that had fallen out of their nests and made them part of the family. After school or on the weekends we would play beach cricket in the sand, take a walk to the treehouse at the back of the Island or go for a day outing on dad’s boat to one of the neighboring sand cays, even turtle bay or Fitzroy Island on occasion.

The Island has a beautiful Rainforest as well, so much to see and explore

I don’t remember when I learned to equalize my ears or dive to 10 meters, but I remember all the things my family taught me about the Ocean and the Island.
After moving to the city to complete my high school education, I returned home again to work for my parents for a while as a zoo keeper, looking after the crocodiles and leading the feeding tours. My family has given me the gift of a huge appreciation for the natural wonder that is sitting on our doorstep. Working with animals is fantastic. Crocodiles truly are amazing animals, and my family zoo – Marineland Melanesia has so much history and family legacy.

In 2016 I worked on a live aboard dive boat that run some very unique and remote trips within the Coral Sea. Often we would frequent Bougainville, Holmes and Osprey reefs in the coral sea (very remote, around 250km off the Coast), as well as The Cod Hole, Lizard Island and back down the ribbons to Cairns, diving everywhere in between. Every so often we would run a special extended expedition to a number of unique locations, one of the more noteworthy expeditions for me was when we visited Raine Island, close to the tip of Australia. Raine Island is the largest Green turtle nesting grounds on planet Earth and the reef was nothing short of the most beautiful thing I have ever laid my eyes on. Through the incredible experiences I’ve been lucky to receive, I’ve developed a true passion for nature and the ocean and sharing my experience through film production, photography and travel/adventure blogging.

I have experienced many challenges and incredible moments growing up and working in such a unique place with my closest family. It hasn’t always been easy and working with family is definitely tricky, but I will keep it with me forever. It’s hard to capture some of the things I’ve experienced, or to express the connection I feel to this place, and to the ocean. I think a lot of locals forget how lucky we are to live in such an incredible part of the world. If you haven’t seen the Great Barrier Reef, do it today and do it as often as possible. There is literally nothing else like it. I’ve always been lucky, so i’m trying to give back in the only way I know how, by sharing my passion. Maybe I can inspire others to come find magic for themselves. 

Check out the video below, or my Galley for more. Let me know what you think in the comments!         


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