Isobel Bennett, Australian coral reef pioneer dies

It is with great sadness that I post that Isobel Bennett, a pioneer and founder of coral reef science in Australia and author of the book “The Great Barrier Reef” has passed away this week (see below for an obituary from The Age newspaper). Isobel was a truely unique person and one of Australia’s most distinguished marine sciences, and her death comes as a true loss to the scientific community. Click here for a link to an extensive interview conducted by the Australian Academy of Science detailing the life of one of “the last great naturalists”.

Seashore and reef expert dies at 98

The Age, January 14th 2008

A PIONEERING marine scientist who had a coral reef named after her has died at 98.

Isobel Bennett, who left school at 16 and went on to become a seashore expert, passed away at a nursing home in Mona Vale, in northern Sydney, yesterday.

Len Zell, a lecturer in marine and tropical biology at James Cook University, said Ms Bennett was schooled in the “university of life”, and had an insatiable curiosity. “She achieved high standing as an Australian marine scientist, not by education, but by sheer hard work, determination, attention to detail, and a never-ending curiosity that tired me out lifting boulders on many reef flats,” he said.

“The last time I was on Heron Island with her she was in her 80s, and we spent hours out on the reef flat turning boulders and photographing and discussing the critters there.”

Ms Bennett, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by NSW University, was born in Brisbane in 1909 and, as the eldest of four children, left school at 16 to enter the workforce.

It was on a cruise with her sister to Norfolk Island in 1933 that she shared the cabin next door to a marine professor, William Dakin, and his wife. Mr Dakin offered her a job plotting ships’ logs on the positions of whales. She went on to work for 40 years at Sydney University.

She also worked on the Great Barrier Reef between 1948 and 1970. The acclaimed The Great Barrier Reef, one of her many books, was published in 1971.

“One genus and five species of marine animals and a coral reef were named after her,” Mr Zell said.

In 1967 she was asked to an audience with the emperor of Japan, also a marine biologist. Ms Bennett is survived by her sister, Phyllis Bennett.

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