Archive for category Great Barrier Reef
During the 1970′s Cairns was put on the international map by big game fishermen. Before this the town was a sleepy fishing port and the only tourists were Australians who made the long trek north on a narrow sealed road we called The Crystal Highway (littered with broken car windscreens, one every 2 Km).
The story how black marlin were found as they spawned along the edge of the continental shelf is best told by the experts.
The changes to the town of Cairns between 1972 and 1982 were enormous. Free or very cheap vacant land given by the state government allowed international hotel’s and a resort at Port Douglas to be fast-tracked.
Today Cairns is the gateway to The Great Barrier Reef. Previously the major gateways had been further south.
In this collage are the boat skippers who went searching for big fish, Peter Bristow, Peter B Wright and Dennis ‘Brizakka’ Wallace.
There was an era when underwater photography was rare, unusual and novel. I purchased a Calypso-phot camera in 1963 and on a memorable safari north with friends, asked Ron Taylor to take a single picture of me with a crayfish. This was North West Island in July 1963. When the film was processed I saw for the first time what I looked like as a diver, underwater. No big deal today but back then it was a real thrill. Like looking in a mirror for the first time, perhaps.
The northern Great Barrier Reef, where surf breaks on the weather side. Corals need to be tough to even begin life here. A constant flow of surfs flows across the reef, except at low tide when the reef might dry or be reduced to shallow pools for a few hours. Pictures with a Sony digital T-1
In deeper water a brain coral in trouble. Something was attacking it. Maybe this is the way life goes on a coral reef? Eventually it might recover. So much to learn and not much time to know all the answers.
Inshore lighthouse on one of the Great Barrier Reef’s uninhabited islands, near Sir Charles Hardy islands.
Australian readers will be familiar with the name Ben Cropp, as will experienced divers overseas. You young guys will get to see more of Ben’s exploits here. A film maker with more than 100 TV specials to his credit, a recipient of the Order of Australia award and many others.
Aboard Ben’s high-speed live aboard private dive boat, I joined him for several expeditions north from his home base at Port Douglas. With a team of no more than five persons aboard Freedom III we ventured far beyond the reach of usual tourist dive groups.
Every young Australian should be shown the far north of Queensland. It’s all frontier country. The only visitors seem to be prawn trawler fleet related, yachtsmen and those associated with mining.
Initially I used film camera’s then switched to digital when better camera specifications and prices became available. Click on the category Ben Cropp Explorer during the coming weeks as we make more material available there from our archives.
The reefs off Townsville (Northern Great Barrier Reef) had spectacular formations until a very strong cyclone went through and smashed formations in deep water. These large corals are hundreds of years old and can be likened to giant forest tree’s. The above picture was November 1983 near Cape Bowling Green.
The last we heard of this pioneering day trip boat, was not good news. She’d been underwater and was then under repair at Yeppoon, Qld.
Lower picture: A very old, large starfish on a bommie outside Fitzroy Lagoon (Capricorn and Bunker Group)
**Beaver Cay, on or about 1983**
Captain Perry Harvey had a battle with marine park authorities over obtaining their permission (believe it or not) to remove coral destroying starfish from a vast patch of coral reef at Beaver Cay.
The reef was visited daily by his charter boat Friendship.
To sit by and watch the valuable coral reef (for tourism) being killed was ‘not on”.
Thousands of starfish were removed, before permission was finally granted.
The reef was saved, but only just.
Captain Perry Harvey was regularly interviewed in marine documentaries. The late Robert Raymond did extensive documentary film reporting and wrote a book on the subject.
Eventually budgets for starfish eradication by divers were granted.
Is the problem under control today? Global warming is the new buzz word.
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.
In 1963 filming was mostly by freediving
There were a couple of reasons for only free diving. Scuba was so new there were no convenient filling stations. Plenty of action existed in water less than fifteen meters deep anyway, and with available light and 25 ASA movie film – the shallow water was where most color was.
In some respects we had it easy with lots more to see and film. In other respects it was more difficult.
Camera’s were mechanical and primitive. It took an expert just to get the correct exposures. These needed to be spot-on especially with Kodachrome reversal film.
For the above pictures Ron Taylor was filming a very large turtle feeding using a 16mm Bolex and a 10mm Switar lens. This was 1963 when we first met.
I used a 35mm Calypso-phot still camera and 50 ASA Agfa film – which has since turned magenta with age, whereas Kodachrome retains original colors well.
We were free diving at Man and Wife Rocks located between North Keppel and Great Keppel Islands and virtually on the Tropic of Capricorn.
Ron’s movie camera held 2 minutes 44 seconds of film. It was hand-wound which gave about 16 seconds of filming before rewinding was necessary.
The results were superb and probably better than many expensive video cameras today – but the action was short. Just seconds per subject.
GREAT KEPPLE ISLAND TODAY
The Great Kepple Island Resort has been ‘moth-balled’, shut down and locked-up some two years ago.
The region has plenty of large sharks and venomous sea snakes if you are interested. Much of the surrounding coral is said to be now dead. Perhaps a freshwater flood being responsible?
It’s amazing how things change. During the early 1970′s nearby Yeppoon and the charter boat Coralita was the departure point for voyages to The Coral Sea.
Aboard were the then leading American film making divers – who helped put Australia on the international dive agenda which we pioneered.
Fathom magazine helped attract their initial attention with a very expensive looking production which illustrated that something was happening in Australia.
Scuba diving today has changed and is under strong competition from more adventurous do-once, sports.
The old villain, spear fishing is now seen as the best opportunity for high adventure water thrills once more.
The modern emphasis is on open ocean spearing, away from scuba diving shallow reefs out in the blue water with tuna and marlin the new target.
One thing is for certain, free diving is excellent for your lungs – something every diver learns to appreciate eventually.
The younger and the taller your body is, the bigger will be your VC (vital capacity of your lungs).
Therefore an eighteen year-old who is six feet tall should easily reach 33 meters or more on a single breath – with expert guidance and a lot of training.
Don McAlpine was also an underwater cameraman. Don has filmed several big budget Hollywood movies. We attended a lecture he gave at Film Australia. I ‘d worked with Don on the Great Barrier Reef off Heron Island in 1969 and had not seen him since in all those years.
It was the first black marlin caught at Cairns by Peter Bristow and his crew. Gordon Hallam alongside Peter. Both were beach fishermen at Point Lookout, Queensland beforehand.
After six-solid months of boat building Pete’s \\Avalon\\ was launched and so began his remarkable life on the sea. Japanese advertising agents named him \\The Old Man of the Sea\\ for a whiskey commercial.
We’ve touched on these subjects before. Briefly there were three young game-fishing skippers that went to Cairns and started an industry that became the talk of the world (of big game fishing).
The spin-off for Australia was it put Cairns, then a very sleepy fishing port, on the international tourist map.Large hotels eventually followed and hoards of tourists seeking access to the Great Barrier Reef.
Exact figures on how the catch rates went over the years is another story. During the 1970′s many one thousand pound (or larger) fish were caught and later, many released with tags.
Peter later moved to Pohnape (Fed States Micronesia) then on to the Portuguese island, Madeira, off the west African coast, where he has found a fisherman’s paradise, and a lifestyle most dream of.
Picture courtesy RJ Taylor collection
The Tweed Heads to Brisbane area was a super-hot spear fishing zone, Australia 1961. While we were seeing Red Morwong and Blue Groper around Sydney, the real underwater champions senior to us in age and experience were seeing giant Black Cod and Queensland Groper in shallow water up north. Pictures published in Australian Skindivers Magazine whetted our desire for a trip north. With friend Vic Ley our dream came true in July 1963 when we quit our jobs and drove north with a boat, outboard and camping gear. We’d swap speared fish and lobsters for food and fuel. The adventure of a lifetime awaited us.
Me with a typical coral trout. Aboard Riversong, a second trip in 1964. Captain Wally Muller and South Australian Brian Rodger in background. We speared thousands of kilo’s of fish during a ten-day voyage in the Capricorn and Bunker Group.
Vic Ley and myself on our first voyage with Wally Muller, August 1963. We speared fish in exchange for a boat ride out to North West Island – where I developed ‘coral poisoning’ in my leg and came close to dying, sulpher tablets pulled me through, probably not with some harm to kidneys.
Ron Taylor and Vic Ley August 1963, Riversong - Wally Muller‘s fishing vessel became legendary in the sixties. We were later to venture to Saumarez Reef in The Coral Sea aboard this small boat in October 1964.
Photo taken with Calypso-phot 35mm underwater camera
**Peter Bristow’s deckhands gaffed these Tiger sharks**
An example from the era when almost every shark attack was blamed on **Grey Nurse** sharks. The monster in this artwork looks very much like it’s meant to be a **Tiger shark.** Great entertainment value today.
The Australian author was very prolific in the 1950′s. The setting for various chapters is Broome in the Nor’ West of Western Australia, and pearl shell divers.
Points why this is considered \\a very special picture:\\
1. The potato cod is not over-fed and is comfortable looking (not \\spooked\\)
2. Clear water, no flash particles
3. Petite blonde with nice figure on an obviously confident diver
4. Action – both subjects moving
5. Warm water freedom – no wet suit or BCD.
One point why it’s value in magazine-print form is now temporarily zero.
(A) Divers (in photographs) on the Great Barrier Reef are ‘forbidden’ to touch anything. There is no ‘fine’ as yet.
Footnote: \\The Cod Hole\\ is a popular North Queensland destination. Serviced by 5-day trips leaving Cairns and Port Douglas. Day trips from Lizard Is; (a gold-plated resort). Probably not as many **potato cod** to be seen there today following restrictions on feeding them. Moray eels have been removed following a savage attack. **Hump Headed Maori wrasse** would be still there. Clear water is commonplace.
Ron Isbell knew who took the prop blades from the wreck of the steamship Cooma at North Reef, it was himself!
He told me just a few weeks ago that when he discovered the blades were bolted onto the boss it became a challenge to salvage them.
There were four blades.
One buried deep amongst coral rubble is still there, another floated then sank in shallow water and may still be there. Two blades were successfully salvaged.
Another question remains unanswered. Who salvaged the Francis Preston Blair (a 7,196 ton US Army Liberty ship that grounded in 1945) propeller at Saumarez?
Perhaps a Dutch diver based in Sydney? The mysteries of the deep slowly unfold.
March 1966 Skin Diver (above with the Cooma prop) was published in California and for decades the prime source of underwater information in the English speaking world. It ceased production a few years ago – which I thought very strange. The same issue ran an article on Sea Snakes featuring Ron Isbell.