BELGIAN EXPEDITION – (GREAT BARRIER REEF 1967), WALLY MULLER, CROWN of THORNS

(This is a recent picture from the northern Great Barrier Reef)

‘Pierre’ wore a bright red wet suit thought to have been used in the James Bond movie Thunderball, just recently completed in Florida.

Most of the diving and motion picture equipment had been purchased from that movie lot, which guaranteed professional quality. But making interesting and informative films requires more than good equipment the project was to later learn.

The son of a Belgian university director had obtained an incredible budget to make educational films underwater on the Great Barrier Reef, with the help of an entire crew of a navy ship.

Occurring at a time when media interest in marine matters was still in the dark ages, therefore it went largely un-reported, yet it was and still is the most extensive single scientific survey of the Great Barrier Reef, ever.

The Belgian Navy had hired to the expedition this former British warship re-named De Moor. With a crew of 75 plus guests and Australian Ron Taylor filming in 35mm motion picture film for seven months.

Locations between Lady Musgrave and Lizard Island, at a time when few people knew these waters underwater.

Captain Wally Muller (formerly of Riversong – a fishing boat, and now Careelah a charter boat) was contracted to guide the De Moor through the largely uncharted waters of The Swain Reefs, and remain with the expedition as a support ship for the entire duration.

The pattern was ten days at sea, four days ashore. Noted coral reef scientists were invited to join along the way. Three were to be participants with Project Stellaroid (a major survey of starfish eating coral reefs in the North Pacific) HQ’d at Guam in 1969. Scientists Dave Barnes, Robert Endean and myself – a photographer.

(My involvement with the Belgian Expedition was as a deckhand, therefore a great time was enjoyed with friendship and positive memories. A major lesson learned would be: How too many people underwater handicap projects as various mishaps occur and require attention).

Corals scientist, David Barnes of Townsville travelled back to the UK aboard this ship and was aboard for eight months or so.

Giving our boat a tow seemed a good fuel saving idea but the effort wrecked Careelah’s gear box.  We limped into Port Douglas for repairs and over the next seven or more days discovered a sleepy town that would eventually become the up-market tourist retreat of North Queensland.  The contrast between then and now is both interesting and mildly disappointing.  Kay Overell (pictured) was our diving friend from Sydney.

In background on left is Robert Pearson who was to work with crown-of-thorns starfish problems, later.   Corrine was Pierre’s girl from Belgium who spoke little English.  Later were later married.

Chief engineer and No.2 in command was Jules, a pleasant and popular man known by the name above.  The Captain was Charles and the interesting story there was after retiring from the navy Charles had the personal satisfaction of seeing his son rise to become ‘Commander’ (or whatever the correct title is) of the Belgian Navy.

Crown of Thorns killed Ellison Reef (off Mission Beach, Queensland) during the late 1990’s.

Large CoT (below picture in 1988) is a long term resident of a bommie at Fitzroy Lagoon, Capricorn and Bunker Group where starfish ‘plagues’ have not effected coral reefs to any noticeable extent.

Dr Robert Endean was a guest scientist during the Belgian Expedition

CROWN OF THORNS STARFISH Captain Perry Harvey

Above: Ellison Reef off Mission Beach, Queensland before starfish killed entire reef.

Lower picture: A very old, large starfish on a bommie outside Fitzroy Lagoon (Capricorn and Bunker Group)




click above picture to enlarge it

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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.