50 years of diving pictures by an Australian expert
Part of perhaps one million starfish, near Mystery Cay
We were dumbstruck at the sight. Coralita had dropped anchor on the last day of our 10-day ‘Sea Safari’ to The Coral Sea. The charter boat, with 12 experienced divers aboard was returning to the Queensland port of Yeppoon, home base for this (at that time) world class 79 foot dive boat.
The scene we discovered underwater was worse than anything reported elsewhere. Far worse than the Guam coral reefs of 1969 (which instigated Project Stelaroid to investigate Micronesian corals and Crown of Thorns intensity).
The late Theo Brown had found hundreds of starfish at Slashers Reef, Townsville and obtained black and white pictures for his book, co written with journalist Keith Willey on the subject.
Here we were much further south in the vast reef area of The Swains with possibly the largest concentration of starfish yet seen anywhere, including the Great Barrier Reef.
The starfish we guessed, numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The diving deckhands (Richard Weir and Roy Muller) then collected 1000 starfish using spears and long lines to thread the starfish on, like a needle and thread.
This way we thought an estimate of the population might be obtained. The further we swam from the charter boat showed no decrease in the numbers. Starfish may have been in the million and covered a huge area of lush living coral.
Reef fish hovered above, unable to occupy usual hiding space under coral ledges.
Some months later we returned to what our captain believed was the same location – but it wasn’t. This was the era pre GPS.
We had been on an unnamed reef, “Two reefs east of Mystery Cay” said Capt. Wally Muller.
Today the this reef would have a name or a number.
What became of the Crown of Thorns controversy? At the time it was a marine equivalent of climate change. People seemed to ignore the problem and it just ‘went away’, but not without cost to the reefs.
How did Mystery Cay obtain it’s unofficial name by the late Captain Wally Muller? Wally explained that he’d sailed past this reef many times without knowing it was there. It was therefore ‘a mystery’ to him.
The name would not have been adopted by authorities years later which makes tracking previous starfish damage impossible.
Father and son, Adam Cropp steers the 30HP Tohatsu outboard for Ben as they head out to set crab traps in North Queensland’s Princess Charlotte Bay.
The aluminum hull with inflatable pontoons is a good compromise for safety and a soft ride. An ideal small boat to carry aboard the larger live-aboard.
A large shark (annoyed by my accidentally running over it) chewed one pontoon, those details already logged in our archives.
We three rented a cabin where, at high tide, the sea water was under the floor. That cabin and many others have since disappeared as the western coast of this big sandy island slowly washes away.
The Australian mainland is seen in the distance, across Moreton Bay. To the south out of sight is **The Gold Coast** – in the opposite direction is Queensland’s capital city, **Brisbane.**
Two years ago bull shark(s) attacked and killed a swimmer just 50 meters from where Mike is standing.
Our shark diving was around the corner and offshore at a small rocky island 3km from the holiday village of** Point Lookout.**
Today fishing pressure has reduced the chance of easily sighting any shark (other than the seasonal and migratory **Grey Nurse**).
Occasional large tiger sharks are a possibility, attracted by lots of stingrays and a few manta rays – both natural food.
Sequences were later featured in \\Savage Shadows\\, the Bource 16mm film released as a 35mm feature.
One of the fish in the Coke fridge bag is a **coral trout** – a species rarely seen today so far south of the Great Barrier Reef.
Henri used self-hypnosis to convince himself he was not handicapped.
This attitude even rubbed off on his friends who thought him \\a bit-of-a-cheat\\ when he used the disabled persons parking space outside his South Melbourne dive company office!