“Ron Taylor’s SAUMAREZ REEF” (1964; 2019)

Saumarez Reef is beyond the outside edge of the Great Barrier Reef, 240 miles offshore. Gannet Cay is located in The Swain Reefs, the southern section of The Great Barrier Reef.  The correct pronunciation for Saumarez is ‘saw-mer- rez’.  or possibly su-mah- ray.

Participants in the 1964 documentary  have  memorable professional diving careers.

 

Ron and Valerie Taylor. World class underwater photographers, adventurers, film cameramen, shark specialists now widely  remembered for their appearance in Blue Water White Death (1969), the filming of Jaws live sharks, and the book “Valerie Taylor an Adventurous Life”.  Both have The Order of Australia AM medal awards. Ron Taylor Reef located in The Swain Reefs has been named in Ron’s memory and honor.

John H. Harding helped promote diving in Australia via work with the Taylor’s 1964 to 1968. John began making his first 16mm film in 1968.  Simultaneously with a leading publisher began Fathom magazine.  Made Australian Seafari  (a 90 minute marine life documentary) as a traveling film show narrated live for many years before a sound-tracked version (inspired by his father John M. Harding, a cinema projectionist at Kings Theatre, Bega NSW pre 1953 and later a Sydney hotelier). Fathom magazine in color revealed to international  divers, film makers and travel agents how advanced Queensland had become. With a world class publication and a  new 79 foot live-aboard dive boat, Coralita the first with an on board air compressor. Now access to offshore crystal clear ocean water of The Coral Sea offering unparalleled shark filming activity was a must to experience.

Marine film shows promoted by John Harding and Ron and Valerie Taylor 1965 to late 1980s.

 

Wally Muller, Captain of the 36 foot fishing vessel Riversong hired by Gulf Oil (USA) to explore The Swain Reefs in 1965. The following year Wally Muller  purchased Careelah a twenty year-old 60 foot charter boat used during The Belgian Expedition of 1967. In 1969 Wally and a partner built the 79 foot Coralita at the Norman R. Wright shipyards in Brisbane, which became a world class live-aboard Commonwealth surveyed (to work anywhere in the world).  The Coral Sea became accessible for international dive trips for the first time.  With Coralita Wally and his young sons Roy and Alexander explored most of The Coral Sea Reefs and accepted risky charters in New Guinea rivers and elsewhere.   Mullers Reef in The Swain Reefs was named to honor this extraordinary pioneer skipper, fisherman and diver who explored most of The Coral Sea often collecting rare sea shells by diving for them at night.

 

Wally Muller in 1971 aboard his new charter boat Coralita.
Twin screw Coralita in 1974.

Bob Grounds held professional abalone diving licenses in three Australian states, worked as a diver on international oil rigs, started and successfully ran a company to repair  marine constructions and historic wharves underwater. Now builds restaurants and marinas in Australia.

Bob Grounds in 1968.

 

Ron Zangari lived a quiet life in Rockhampton, Queensland as a semi-professional diver after working on Riversong as an unpaid deckhand for many trips. Ran foul of the law by driving without a license more than a couple of times. Maintained a good sense of humor with naive mistakes.  A gentleman to the end.

Ron Zangari on cover of Ben Cropp's The Shark Hunters.
Ron Zangari with a Tiger shark became world famous through this picture by Ben Cropp, taken aboard Riversong in The Swain Reefs (1961)

Riversong  the legendary Wally Muller vessel exists today, owned-operated by an indigenous fishing community in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Riversong built and designed along the lines of a lugger.

MYSTERY CAY, THE SWAIN REEFS and CROWN OF THORNS

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.

Beautiful example, a coral formation in The Swain Reefs not effected by boat anchors or starfish.

How did Mystery Cay obtain its 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.

UNUSUAL CORAL SHAPES

strangecoral.jpg (86k image)
Wally Muller (pictured on the surface) was a former pro fishermen who took-up diving. Very unusual. Most fishermen were too scared of sharks to enter the water – not Wally.

During the Belgian Expedition I clicked this shot. No details of where it was, most probably in The Swains Reefs. Wally was a master navigator of this region in the era before reliable charts were available.

On 2nd thoughts I now wonder if those unusual mounds of coral were part of an old shipwreck since covered with live coral?

Further north at Yonge Reef, near Lizard Island, I photographed French author Bernard Gorsky using his Hassleblad and underwater case – the first Hassleblad housing seen in Australia.  It was 1967.

This picture became a cover for the original Australian SKINDIVERS Magazine.