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Project Ocean Vision on Expedition Ocean Vision 4 to Australia in 2010.


Expedition Ocean Vision 4 took Courtney (Paul Courtnage) and Carol Courtnage (Project Ocean Vision) to Australia in November and December 2010. Our earlier plans to film in the Red Sea and Thailand had to be drastically changed due to the very happy news that Courtney's daughter Sophie was getting married in Sydney on 4th December.

This gave Project Ocean Vision the opportunity to bring forward a planned trip to Australia to film on the Great Barrier Reef, in Port Douglas, in the Daintree Rain Forest in Queensland and The Rocks in Sydney.

This was Project Ocean Vision's longest expedition to date and this page reports on where we went and what we did. We certainly learned a lot about this amazing country. Despite our original enthusiasm to cover as much of the country as possible, we elected to confine our explorations to the east coast.

Click here for The Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Video Diary page (or direct link).


Project Ocean Vision - Expedition Ocean Vision 4

This page gives a summary of Expedition Ocean Vision 4. For a more detailed account go to Vox, Chapter 15.

Australian Flag - Expedition Ocean Vision 4



Day 0: Thursday 25 November 2010

19:00 Project Ocean Vision pre-position at London Heathrow - Sheraton Heathrow - to avoid a 04:00 start and the risk of traffic in the morning. Had to chase up the taxi company as they had erroneously made our booking for the following day! But we made it to the Sheraton in time for supper and some wine before an early night. A good job we weren't flying that night, though!

The Heathrow Sheraton is an adequate motel, suitable for the night, but nothing special.

Malaysia Airlines


Day 1: Friday 26th November 2010

Fly from Heathrow 10:50 a.m. to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines MH3 (Boeing 747-400). We were 4kgs over allowance (£640 excess baggage for the whole exped) so we took the check-in lady's advice to remove something from a bag and carry it. I removed and carried Carol's BCD - no one seemed to mind at all. Now, why does that 4kg worry them in my hold-luggage, but not over my shoulder? Still the same weight on the aircraft.

After breakfast, Security managed to detain of us for 40 minutes and x-ray our precious video tapes three times before allowing us to pass. The whole travel experience is becoming increasingly joyless.

The flight to KL departed late, eroding our transfer time at KL for the Sydney flight. Badly behaved kids all around on this flight so no sleep on this leg.

        Current weather in Sydney   The World, Project Ocean Vision on Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Day 2: Saturday 27th November 2010

08:15 arrive late at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Dash to connecting flight and join a long, slow queue to have our carry-on x-rayed again, causing minor damage to big cam and another dose of x-rays for The Project Ocean Vision HD video tapes. KL is a nice, new airport, but a lot of extra security slows everything down a lot.

09:00 depart KL, Malaysia Airlines MH141.

19:55 land at Sydney Airport (33° 55' S 151° 17' E).

Australian immigration officials are so much friendlier than those in the UK. Malaysia Airlines were unable to reunite us with our clothes bag - that, apparently, was still in KL and would be joining us at our hotel tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.

Our taxi driver (airport to hotel) had recently arrived from the Lebanon, spoke very little English, didn't know where the Russell Hotel was and was clearly unfamiliar with Sydney. His ineptitude cost us an extra $10 on the meter and he eventually gave up and dumped us somewhere near the Sydney Harbour Bridge with our bags and kit. We struggled with these on foot for about half an hour or so until we stumbled across the Russell Hotel.

22:15 - Check into The Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney. Wine, tucker, sleep.


Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney. Project Ocean Vision on Expedition Ocean Vision 4. The Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney

Current time in Sydney

Manly Beach. Project Ocean Vision on Expedition Ocean Vision 4. Dee Why looking southwest to Manly


Day 3: Sunday 28th November 2010

Breakfast in Sydney. Still no sign of our missing bag by lunchtime and the contact number for the baggage company went straight to voicemail. We needed to move from the hotel to our next destination, but couldn't get our bag redirected. After many expensive calls, I finally managed to contact them so that we could move on. Sophie and Matt took us to their apartment in Dee Why, one of the beach suburbs just north of Sydney.

We were finally reunited with our missing bag around six o'clock so were then able change out of our three-day-old clothes. An evening barbie with Matt's parent's, Mike and Di, and Matt's sister, Sarah, who was very kindly going to put us up for the next few days. All such lovely people.

Day 4: Monday 29th November 2010

Early dawn chorus. The morning was alive with the calls of mynas, parrots and kookaburras. We took a grand tour of all the local sites: Palm Beach, Curl Curl, Dee Why, Freshwater and Manly Beach. We took pictures of Sydney from North Head and lunched at Burger Me - flathead fish for Carol, kangaroo burger for Courtney.

We repaired to the Manly Winery on the beach to enjoy some of New South Wales's finest wines and to watch the surfers. We had already dipped our toes in the Pacific and decided that total immersion could wait until warmer waters later in the exped. We had also found the bodies of hundreds of dead bluebottles (right) on the beach, which made these not friendly waters.

A bluebottle Physalia utriculus is a marine invertebrate related to the Portuguese man o' war; it is not a jellyfish, but a siphonophore, which is not actually a single creature, but a colony made up of four separate types of polyps called zooids (the gas-filled bladder or pneumatophore, the tentacles or dactylozooids, the digestive organisms or gastrozooids and the reproductive organisms or gonozooids). These zooids cannot survive independently of the colony. It has no means of self-propulsion and is entirely dependent on winds, currents, and tides.

Bluebottles have painful stings, not normally fatal to humans unless there is an allergic reaction or other complications. Dead bluebottles and broken pieces of tentacles can sting just as badly as a complete or live specimen.

Treatment for stings is not the same as for jellyfish: avoid further contact with the creature, carefully remove any remnants from the victim's skin (do not touch them directly) and apply salt water to the affected area (not fresh water and do not apply alcohol). The application of hot water (45°C/113°F) can ease the pain and break-down the toxin. Always best to seek medical assistance. I was stung by a man o' war as a child and can attest to the severity of their stings.

We shall discuss the highly venomous box jellyfish (sea wasp, marine stinger or Chironex fleckeri) later in this report. The next section deals with some of Australia's other dangerous creatures - if you want to skip that, click here.


Click here to skip the
section on Australia's
dangerous wildlife.

Australia's Dangerous Wildlife

Blue Ringed Octopus
Blue Ringed Octopus


Australia has a number of other dangerous creatures and it is worth taking a short diversion to note some of them and how best to avoid an unpleasant encounter.

The Blue-Ringed Octopus, Hapalochlaena maculosa, likes to live in tidal pools, is only about 12 to 20 cm long, but highly venomous, the toxin causing fatal muscle paralysis. There is no known anti-venom and rescue breathing or a medical ventilator must be used to keep the victim alive until the toxin wears off. It is relatively common, but rarely seen. Image from barwonbluff.com.au

Funnel Web Spider
Funnel Web Spider


The Funnel-web Spider (Atrax robustus) occurs throughout New South Wales. They are are shiny, dark brown to black. If threatened, Funnel-webs show aggressive behaviour, rearing and displaying their impressive fangs. The venom contains a neurotoxin and can result in death. In the event of a bite, immediately apply a pressure bandage, immobilize the victim (as for snake bite) and transport to hospital for antivenom. Image from termitepestcontrolsydney.com.au

Redback Spider
Redback Spider


The Redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti) is black or dark brown with a clear red longitudinal stripe on the upper abdomen. Females only grow to 1 cm in length. Webs are normally found in dry, sheltered sites, among rocks or logs and in sheds or toilets. Redbacks tend to stay in their web. Treat a bite by applying an ice pack, do not use a pressure bandage, collect the spider for positive identification and seek medical attention and antivenom. Image from WAToday.com.au


There are a few fish species to to be wary of: Lionfish and stonefish have venomous spines, stingrays will sting if trodden on and some shark species can be dangerous - bull shark, great white, tiger, oceanic whitetip and bronze whaler. Of these it is only the sharks that are likely to be aggressive and should be avoided if you are unsure of them.

Death Adder
Death Adder


There is a number of snake species to we aware of:

The Death Adder is recognised by its triangular head, short stout body and thin tail. It can grow to 1 metre and is found throughout Australia in forests and woodlands, grasslands and heath. They have large fangs. Image by W. Wüster

Eastern Brown Snake
Eastern Brown Snake


The Eastern Brown Snake is also found throughout Australia and is slender, rust-brown to very dark brown above, cream below. It can be aggressive if disturbed. Image by Ant Backer, from The James Cook University website

Red Bellied Black Snake
Red Bellied Black Snake


Red-bellied Black Snake is black on top with a dark red underside and grows to 1.5 metres. Not generally fatal and less venomous than other Australian snakes. Common in woodlands, forests and swamplands of eastern Australia and one of Australia's best-known snakes as it is common in urban areas
The Blue-bellied Black Snake is similar apart from colouration. Image from the Warringah Council website

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

The Tiger Snake is rare, but has a reputation for being aggressive. Most sub-species have yellow and black bands, but colour can be very variable. They are 1 to 2.5 metres in length and like to live near water. Its venom is highly toxic to humans. Image from tigersnakes.com.au

Mulga Snake
Mulga or King Brown Snake


The Mulga Snake (or King Brown Snake), Pseudechis australis, is widely distributed and tends to be more aggressive in northern areas. It can reach over three metres. It has a robust body with a broad deep head and bulbous cheeks. Various shades of brown or copper above, lighter, almost cream below. Image from aussiepythons.com

Highland Copperhead
Highland Copperhead


The Copperhead has a robust, muscular build. The scales of the back and upper sides are semi-glossy, black to grey-brown in colour, with a coppery sheen, particularly on the head. They are somewhat secretive and will avoid human encounters if possible. Markings differ greatly. Image from ugmedia.com.au

Yellow bellied sea snake
Yellow Bellied Sea Snake


The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake has long head, which is distinct from its body. Black to dark blue-brown above with a sharply-defined yellow lower half. The tail is yellow and paddle-shaped with dark spots. Very seldom leave the water. Image from thefeaturedcreature.com

Coastal Taipan
Coastal Taipan


The Coastal Taipan is a large, robust snake with a deep, rectangular head distinct from the slender neck. Body colour may be yellowish, reddish brown, dark brown or almost black. It is the most dangerous snake in Australia, extremely nervous, fast and alert and any movement near them is likely to trigger an attack. The related Inland Taipan is placid, much more timid and spends most of the day underground. Both are highly toxic. Image from ugmedia.com.au

Collett's Snake
Collett's Snake


Collett’s Snake is strongly built with a robust body and a broad, blunt head barely distinct from its body. It has an irregular banded pattern of reddish to salmon-pink patches on a darker brown or black background. The top of the head is uniformly dark although the snout may be slightly paler. Relatively placid, but highly venomous. Image by Rune Midtgaard

Dugite or Spotted Brown Snake


The Dugite or Spotted Brown Snake, is long and slender with large, semi-glossy scales and a small head, indistinct from the neck. Lives in Western Australia. There is a distinct brow ridge above the large eye. Although shy, it lives near human habitation making its bite the most common in Australia. Fortunately the fangs are quite small. Image from perthzoo.wa.gov.au

Many snakes avoid human contact and will move away if you make noise whilst moving through their territory. Some will make an aggressive warning display before striking, which is time to back off. Long trousers and boots offer some protection.

Treatment varies from species to species and it is impossible to to offer a complete, single emergency response for them all. The appearance of a single species can vary so much between individuals that there is no certain way to identify many snake species even if you are familiar with them. As you can see from the pictures above, many species are hard to distinguish anyway. Therefore, I find it useful to have a general set of guidelines even though they may not be the perfect action list in every situation:

Protect the patient and yourself from further bites, keep the victim calm.

Alert the emergency services and arrange evacuation to medical help.

Personally, I would apply a pressure bandage and minimise movement, but opinion is divided as this depends on the species of snake.

Do not attempt to kill or capture the snake: wastes time and puts your at risk - a quick photo with a mobile phone would help, but only if this doesn't cause risk or undue delay. Do not wash or clean the site of the bite - residual venom may help the medics identify the species and select the appropriate antivenom. Do not make an incision at the bite - old style snake bite kits are no longer recommended.

Project Ocean Vision offer these thoughts in good faith; we do not make any recommendations about the the
treatment of any medical emergencies - always seek professional medical advice on any such contingencies.

Finally the esturine crocodile, saltwater croc or 'saltie'. We shall cover these later; suffice to say it is wise to stay away from the shoreline or river bank in croc territory.

Sophie Courtnage, Paul Courtnage, Matthew Geraghty. Icebergs, Manly Beach
Sophie Courtnage, Paul Courtnage and Mat Geraghty

Day 5: Tuesday 30th November 2010

Project Ocean Vision went on a grand tour of Sydney, taking in North and South heads, the Harbour, the various city areas and the famous Bondi Beach. Sydney is really huge and is a nice mix of old, colonial style buildings and massive, gleaming, high-rise towers. It has an open feel to it and a really good atmosphere.

The weather hadn't been too great for our first couple of days, but it let up just enough to allow us a good look at Sydney and to take some great photos of the place. This was our first real day of photography. As we arrived in Bondi it was somewhat dull and wet so we went into the much celebrated "Icebergs" for lunch - our fellow diners included Curtis Stone and Donna Hay, which says a lot for the restaurant.

Day 6: Wednesday 1st December 2010

Today is officially the first day of the Aussie Summer, although somewhat dull still. It's a day of pre-wedding logistical arrangements before we all drive up to the Central Coast (about 50 km north of Sydney) and the wedding venue tomorrow.

We went into Manly to walk on the beach to film the grey, foaming surf and to watch the surfers. The surfers seemed to spend a very long time battling against the breakers, getting themselves positioned far enough off shore and ready to catch the perfect wave. We observed that the sport involves very long periods floating in the Pacific waiting for the right wave to arrive. Probably fine in the height of summer in the sunshine, but in 16°C water and under grey skies this was not for us. We walked along the beach, only to find that the rough seas had again bought in a large number of bluebottles. We are advised that this not uncommon for this time of year.

  Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Expedition Ocean Vision 4
Project Ocean Vision in Sydney

New South Wales


Day 7: Thursday 2nd December 2010

Drive North to Sea Farm at Copacabana Beach, Central Coast, for Sophie and Matt's wedding - a few days out of our normal expedition filming and exploration schedule.

The map on the left shows Sydney at the south, Manly slightly north and Copacabana on the coast (southeast of Central Coast).

Sea Farm      Sea Farm

Sea Farm       Sea Farm

Day 8: Friday 3rd December 2010

Woken just before dawn by the most amazing bird calls. A mixture of unfamiliar cries, screeches, whistles and whoops; and so loud!

Things to do today: Matt wanted to surf, we needed to get out filming and photographing and Sophie was preparing for the wedding tomorrow. We also had a wedding rehearsal in the afternoon.


Sophie and Matt Geraghty's Wedding Sophie and Matt Geraghty

Day 9: Saturday 4th December 2010

Courtney's daughter, Sophie, and Matt's wedding.

We were roused again by the amazing dawn chorus. The morning was spent setting things up for the wedding and after a couple of hours the place was transformed and decorated for the big event – all Sophie and Matt's planning coming together nicely. The wedding was not strictly a part of the Expedition so I shall not report on it here except to say that it was a truly fabulous day! And it was so good that so many people had made so much effort to be there from all over the world. There is more on this in Courtney's journal here.

Day 10: Sunday 5th December 2010

Sea Farm, Central Coast.

A quiet day, exploration and filming at Copacabana Beach and Terrigal. We did some people watching and took a careful look at Aussie life. We were interested to conclude that Australia seems to be quite heavily regulated, this corner of it anyway. As a small example, the image of carefree aussies having a barbie on the beach with a few stubbies of beer was shattered for us by notices announcing that the beach and promenade were alcohol free zones and that there was to be no food or drink on the beach. Similarly, the rules about other lifestyle choices were displayed all over town: no smoking in the street (or, of course inside buildings), no drinks outside bar areas, no trainers in one of the large, outside bars, men to wear tops, a myriad of parking and driving regulations and numerous other restrictions. Not quite the carefree society we may have expected. Interesting.

Project Ocean VisionProject Ocean Vision - Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Day 11: Monday 6th December 2010

Project Ocean Vision return to Sydney for one night.

Prep for the next phase of Expedition Ocean Vision 4 - Queensland: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rain Forest.

Courtney up at dawn to record the amazing bird song and to film the cockatoos. The early morning was beautiful, clear skies, warm, the faintest of breezes. Other birds much more difficult, impossible actually as they liked to flit about in the trees, not exposing themselves to my waiting lens. But the sounds of the mynas, parrots, whip birds, bell birds and several others yet to be identified made for a great recording.

The drive back to Sydney afforded a good view of the bush and we were back at Sophie and Matt's around midday. Time to sort out our kit and turnaround our bags for the trip north tomorrow.

Port Douglas

Day 12: Tuesday 7th December 2010

08:30: Depart Sydney Airport on Virgin Blue flight DJ1413 with Sophie and Matt.

10:35: Arrive Cairns (about 1,500 miles north of Sydney) and drive north to Port Douglas.  Staying at Treetops Hotel for 9 nights (marked with a red arrow on the map to the left, town is the area at the top marked 'Port Douglas'.).

Phase 3 of Expedition Ocean Vision 4: exploring, filming and photographing the area around Port Douglas, the Daintree Rain Forest and The Great Barrier Reef.

Virgin Blue

Port Douglas is in Far North Queensland, approximately 70 km north of Cairns. Its population is roughly 4,000, but often doubles with the influx of tourists during the peak tourism season May–September.

Port Douglas is named in honour of former Premier of Queensland, John Douglas. It developed quickly based on the mining industry, timber cutting and agriculture. Previous names for the town include Terrigal, Island Point, Port Owen and Salisbury. Port Douglas is located adjacent to two famous World Heritage areas: the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

Climate in Port Douglas

Month Max Temp
Min Temp
Average Rain fall
January 30.3 23.7 76 405.4
February 30.1 23.5 79 434.2
March 29.5 22.8 78 424.3
April 28.3 21.5 75 197.9
May 26.7 19.5 75 99.9
June 25.1 17.7 74 49.1
July 24.6 16.8 72 30.0
August 25.3 17.1 70 27.4
September 26.7 18.6 67 35.3
October 28.3 20.8 68 38.3
November 29.5 22.3 69 89.4
December 30.3 22.3 70 175.6

Silversonic Silversonic - Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Day 13: Wednesday 8th December 2010

Diving on Silversonic, state of the art catamaran, 32 kts with ride control. 1½ hours to the outer Barrier Reef, right on the continental shelf at Agincourt reef. Quicksilver run a very smooth and professional operation: safety, presentation, comfort and style. This was stinger season and the Box Jellyfish (see below) are armed with agonising and potentially fatal stings. So despite the 29ºC water, we went for full wet suits, gloves and hoods - pretty much standard Project Ocean Vision diving gear, really.

Diving here is not deep and the water is reasonably clear - probably not quite as good as the Red Sea, but fine for filming. We found most coral to be in good health, with some mechanical damage and occasional patches of bleaching. Some good video of the sea life and coral.

Box Jellyfish
Box Jellyfish

The Box Jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, is known as the most venomous animal on Earth. They are pale blue and transparent with a cube shaped medusae. Measuring up to 20 cm along each side, the Box Jellyfish has up to 15 tentacles on each corner, which can be 3 metres in length with up to 5,000 nematocysts (stinging cells). The Box Jellyfish can propel itself at speeds of up to 4 knots - a lot faster than you can swim!

A swimmer stung by a box jellyfish is unlikely to survive. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that severe shock will set in rapidly, often causing the victim to drown before being able to reach the shore.

Ordinary vinegar should be poured liberally over the tentacles to inactivate stinging cells as quickly as possible. The tentacles may then be removed. Artificial respiration and cardiac massage may be required. Where antivenom is unavailable, pressure-immobilisation may be used on limbs after inactivation of stinging cells, while the patient is being transported to the nearest medical assistance. Never use alcohol on these stings.

Full coverage with a lycra suit offers good protection against stingers. A full wet suit, hood, gloves and boots are better, but care should be taken not to leave exposed flesh around the mask area.



Scuba diver’s attempting the rescue of a diver stung by a Box Jellyfish must obey the golden rule of rescue diving: the rescuer must not get into trouble themselves. Be extremely careful to not get caught in the Box Jellyfish’s tentacles - there could be 6 metres of deadly tentacles floating around the victim.

• Arrange for immediate medical assistance/evacuation. Time is extremely important.

• Keep the victim as still as possible to reduce the spread of venom through the body.

• Flood the area of the sting with vinegar to prevent any nematocysts from firing and injecting more venom.

• If the sting is on a limb, wrap the area in a pressure bandage to attempt to slow the spread of the venom. This must not be too tight.

• Use artificial respiration and cardiac massage, as required - with a Box Jellyfish sting it almost certainly will be!


A Few Words on The Great Barrier Reef by Project Ocean Vision

The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, is the world's largest reef system comprising over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. It stretches over 2,600 km (1,600 mi) and is the world's biggest structure made by living organisms. The one thing it isn't is a barrier reef; it is a massive collection of different reef types - mainly fringing reefs, ribbon reefs, deltaic reefs, lagoonal reefs and crescentic reefs.

A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, limiting the impact of human use such as fishing and tourism. Other environmental pressures on the reef and its ecosystem include runoff, climate change accompanied by mass coral bleaching and cyclic population outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, shipping accidents, oil spills, and tropical cyclones. Skeletal Eroding Band is a disease of hard corals is caused by the protozoan Halofolliculina corallasia, which affects 31 coral species.

Great Barrier Reef Wildlife:

6 species of sea turtles

9 species of seahorse

30 species of cetaceans

49 species of pipefish

125 species of elasmobranchs

215 species of birds

400 coral species

1,500+ fish species

2,195 plant species

5,000 species of mollusc

Bronze Whaler Shark
Project Ocean Vision
Bronze Whaler Shark. Photo by Paul Courtnage

Port Douglas Port Douglas, Northern Queensland
Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Day 14: Thursday 9th December 2010

Carol and I explored and filmed Port Douglas further. Clear skies and very very hot and humid. We discovered a lot about this wonderful place today, including a little more about its fascinating history.

We planned and booked our Daintree Rainforest exped. Lots of good planning and I think we've come up with a good trip for a couple of days time. Made some good contacts.

Flames of the Forest Project Ocean Vision. Paul Courtnage at
Flames of the Forest
Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Day 15: Friday 10th December 2010

More filming in Port Douglas and on Four Mile Beach. The main event today was the ‘Flames of the Forest’ Aboriginal Experience - more of a cultural experience than a formal part of the expedition, but highly enjoyable and all part of gaining an understanding of the country.

We left our hotel soon after 7pm and drove, in the dark, some 30 minutes into the rainforest. The road became narrower and less suited to ordinary road vehicles until we found our path blocked by 2 barricades of fire. We followed a candlelit path through the forest, across a stream and eventually into a gorgeous clearing, half enclose by a magnificent jungle canopy.

Here guests were served champagne and canapés and here we met up with Sophie and Matt. Soon we were led to a huge marquee, the air filled with the low drone of a didgeridoo played by a lone aboriginal man. Tables were beautifully laid and we were joined by an Irish family, also here for a wedding.

We dined magnificently on seafood fruits, salads, kangaroo. During dinner, our aboriginal hosts treated us to music and stories of their tribe, the Kuku Yalanji, their childhood in the Mowbray Valley and the wonderful tribal lore of the duck and the water rat. What a truly wonderful evening.

Their finale was to turn off al the lights so that we could experience the sounds of the rainforest.

Treetops Hotel, Port Douglas. Treetops Hotel, Port Douglas.
The Project Ocean Vision headquarters during
Phase 3 of Expedition Ocean Vision 4


Day 16: Saturday 11th December 2010

Port Douglas. Carol's Birthday this week, so as this is a down day, it's a good time for some celebrations. 

After breakfast I took Carol to the spa for an hour’s treatment and relaxation whilst I went and took some photos of the amazing location that is our hotel, Treetops; tall, slender tropical trees, vines, aerial roots, saphorites, epiphytes, ferns and palms and creepers, filled with the calls of exotic birds and the shrill chorus of a thousand unseen insects. The whole is woven through with tumbling water and sparking pools with fish and lilly pads.

After the morning spa treatment we went to town to visit a really wonderful little beach fashion shop, Tshinto, to seek out something special. We had a cooling beer before returning to Treetops for Carol’s afternoon facial.

In the evening we had a lovely dinner at a really good restaurant in PD called Nautilus – highly recommended.

Great Barrier Reef The Great Barrier Reef

Expedition Ocean Vision 4Expedition Ocean Vision 4. Courtney Courtnage
filming on The Great Barrier Reef

Day 17: Sunday 12th December 2010

Sunday and back to Silversonic today for another trip out to the GBR. And what a day it turned out to be! Again the operation on the boat was highly professional and we hooked up with our old diving instructor friend, Matt, who was able to show us the best places to go – especially for sharks.

We dived with and filmed some awesome whitetips and some half-dozen bronze whalers (see below and left). All were very peaceful and enjoyable until someone decided to start feeding them from the boat on our return from the final dive of the day. Those that have read my articles on sharks will know my feelings about this. I managed some rushed and somewhat unsteady footage of them feeding in the waves at the back of the boat – it neatly demonstrates the change in shark behaviour when food is introduced into the equation. See the Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Video Diary link at the end of this page.

After a full, happy and successful day, we dined at the hotel and celebrated our good day’s work with a bottle of Oyster Bay Merlot. Beautiful sharks, good stuff for Project Ocean Vision.

Bronze Whaler Shark Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Video Diary,
Bronze Whaler Shark


Bronze Whaler Shark Carcharhinus brachyurus

This species gets its name from its colour. Also known as a copper shark, they are slender, with dark grey to metallic bronze colouring and a lighter underside, a broad, bluntly pointed snout, long tail lobe and long, darker pectoral fins. Its teeth are small, flat, triangular blades. They are powerful fighters, preferring temperate and subtropical seas out to the continental shelf edge, at depths of up to 100m (330ft).

Bronze Whaler Sharks are mostly bottom feeders, preying on small sharks, rays, bony fish, etc. Bronze Whaler Sharks are often found inshore when feeding on schools of fish, frequently within the surf zone. They have been implicated in attack on bathers and spear fishermen. Bronze Whalers are not considered to be threatened. They are viviparous, giving birth to live young, bearing around 16 pups, each measuring around 60cm at birth. They grow to 2.3-3m (7-10ft) and weigh 250-350kg (500-780lb).

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Day 18: Monday 13th December 2010

Port Douglas.  Down Day. 

A restful day today at the Treetops Hotel – time to sort out our dive gear and prepare ourselves for filming in the rainforest tomorrow, a highlight of Expedition Ocean Vision 4. A few domestic chores, getting in supplies for the rainforest tomorrow and a couple of beers (Pure Blonde - the 'official beer' of Expedition Ocean Vision 4) in the pool. Supper in the hotel and an early night. Excited about the morning.

Daintree Rain Forest Daintree Rain Forest
(Expedition Ocean Vision 4)

Daintree Rain Forest Daintree Rain Forest (Expedition Ocean Vision 4)

Day 19: Tuesday 14th December 2010

Project Ocean Vision filming in The Daintree Rain Forest.

We left the hotel after a hearty breakfast and were collected in a smart 4x4 bus/truck affair. Out of Port D on the Captain Cook highway, through Mossman and up to the Daintree Forest and across the mighty Daintree river on the cable drawn ferry.

We discussed the natural history of Australia and this part of Nrtugru, tropical Queensland, in particular, with our guide, Rick. He was under no illusions about the fragile ecology of this ancient, diverse and extreme continent. We gained new insights into this land and the challenges it faces. It all really dates back to Captain James Cook's (actually a Lieutenant then) first voyage to Australia in 1770. He arrived in Botany Bay on 29th April after a particularly wet year and recorded a land that was lush and bountiful, suitable for settling and farming. Had he arrived in a different year or in a different place he may have had very different ideas.

As it happens, Australia could hardly be less suited to farming; lack of water (the driest vegetated continent on earth), poor, thin topsoil and a terrible lack of nutrients. And yet, here in the north their agriculture centres around three of the most water-hungry crops in the world: cotton, rice and sugar cane. At least 80% of the irrigation water for these crops comes from the aquifers, depleting the region's store of water - it won't last forever! Although the tropical north receives up to 12 metres of rain a year, its total store of freshwater could be drained by just a day's flow of the Mississippi! It is only this strip of land on the Eastern coast that receives this much rain. West of the Great Dividing Range we find that 5 out of Australia's 7.8 million km2 is actually desert. Farming this land is not practical. To compensate for the poor, thin soil, farmers must add thousands of tonnes of nitrates and phosphates every year, most of which ends up as run off, severely threatening the survival of the coral that forms the Great Barrier Reef.

Daintree occupies 1,200 km2 making it the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian mainland; it is both diverse and fragile. The Daintree Rainforest occupies only 0.2% of the landmass of Australia, but it contains 18% of Australia's bird species, 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species and 65% of of its bat and butterfly species.

Much of it has been cleared for timber, building and agriculture, eagerly encouraged by the Queensland Government who really didn't understand what they had here - they had stated that these were invasive asian plant species that needed eradicating, whereas they are actually locally evolved, some species unique to this region. Further afield, no one had really heard of the place and the world was equally ignorant of what it was until someone noticed that the massive, unwanted forest being systematically wiped out was, in fact, the oldest rainforest on earth, containing many unique, rare species. Finally, in the mid-1980s, steps were taken to preserve at least some of it and this is why the Daintree National Park is there today.

Project Ocean Vision
Project Ocean Vision in the Daintree Rain Forest (Expedition Ocean Vision 4)

Daintree River Daintree River (photo by Paul Courtnage)

Saltwater Crocodile Saltwater Crocodile on the Daintree River.
Photo: Carol Courtnage, Expedition Ocean Vision 4

cassowary Cassowary

Cane Toad Cane Toad

We went on to the Daintree Discovery Centre, which gave us the opportunity to explore the rainforest's ecology and we managed to get ourselves right up into the canopy, some 25m or so above the forest floor. We discovered the amazing techniques that plants employ to get their leaves into the sunlight and the parts played in maintaining this system by all its birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.

Beneath its canopy is a wealth of wildlife including Cassowaries, freshwater and saltwater crocodiles (crocodylus porosus), the Boyd's Forest Dragon, some of the world's most poisonous snakes, fascinating insects and lizards and some amazing trees and creepers.

We moved on to Cape tribulation, which is beautiful, ecologically significant and brings us back to Captain Cook. Around here the GBR meets the land and, unexpectedly the Rainforest actually helps to protect the coral. We dived here a few days earlier, still early Summer, but the water temperature was already reaching 29ºC, close to the upper limit for coral. As the Summer progresses, temperatures would soon reach into the low 30s and the coral would start to bleach. But as rain would be falling on the forest at over 1m per month, there would be significant, cooling, freshwater run off, helping to keep temperatures reasonable. Of course, too much freshwater can also damage the coral. There were calls to divert the run off for freshwater supplies to towns and farms, but this would be at the expense of the GBR.

When James Cook was sailing North from New South Wales, returning to England, his ship, HMS Endeavour, struck the reef here on 11 June 1770. The ship was stuck fast and holed. The crew were able to re-float the ship and came ashore here whilst repairs were affected. It was because of their difficulties and near disaster that James Cook named this place Cape Tribulation.

We joined a small river boat to search for the giant saltwater crocs for which the Daintree River is famous. These prehistoric creatures are found in various tropical and sub-tropical regions around the globe, but here in Australia they have two endemic species, what they call the freshwater croc (or 'freshies') that are largely harmless to humans and live on fish and the enormous saltwater species that can grow to over 8m in length and will happily eat pretty much anything it can catch – fish, cattle, dogs and humans included. They are the largest, most aggressive and by far the most dangerous crocs in the world.

Unlike alligators and freshies, the saltwater (esturine) males will not tolerate other males in their territories – including their own offspring. So the Daintree river hosts only one male per 1 km of river. The smaller females are slightly less territorial, but equally dangerous. All salties live in the salt and brackish waters of the tidal zone. We found three crocs this day.

This is mangrove country and we were lucky to learn a great deal about how these amazing plants have adapted to live immersed in these salty, oxygen-depleted waters – an environment that would kill most other land plants.

These mangroves are also home to a huge number of other flora and fauna. Ferns, creepers and numerous saphorites grow on the mangrove trees. Spiders and insects inhabit the forest behind and this is where we got a bit of a picture of just how dangerous and hard life must have been for the early settlers. For example, when they first started to grown sugar cane here, the crop was planted and harvested by hand by the cane cutters. These men worked in the extreme heat and humidity of the tropics and the cane fields were home to numerous, highly dangerous species. Rats had arrived here on ships from Europe and quickly infested the cane fields and carried plague and Weil’s disease, both of which killed hundreds of cane cutters. The rats also attracted predators, most notably the Coastal Taipan (Oxyuramus Scutellatus), which we mentioned earlier. At 2-3m in length, these are among the most venomous snakes in the world. They are also very aggressive and are active during the day when the cane cutters were working.

As if these dangers weren’t enough, they lacked water for half the year (the winter here is almost totally dry) and their homes, such as they were, were infested with all manner of nasties: the death adder (Acanthophis Proelungus), Redback Spiders (family Amavrobiiuae), mosquitoes that carry Ross river virus, dengue fever or malaria, poisonous centipedes, scorpions and many others. They would also meet Cassowaries (Casaurius casaurius) a bird from the same family as the ostrich, rhea and emu. These ancient birds are now rare in Australia and found only in NE Queensland. But they are very dangerous if approached too closely, possessing a long sharp dagger on their inside toe that can be used to attack humans. At nearly 2m tall, these birds can, if startled or threatened, kill a human; stories of slashed throats and disembowelments!

And then they did something really stupid! They had a problem with cane beetles that fed on the tender, young cane shoots. So, in 1935, they introduced a species of toad,Bufo Marinus or cane toad, in an attempt to control the beetles. The toads ignored the cane beetles and set about the other local species. A female cane toad can lay 35,000 eggs in a season, so they soon exploded in numbers and quickly started to spread well beyond the area they were brought in to protect; their range is still expanding. They are also poisonous, producing toxin from glands in the skin behind the head, so indigenous species that ate the toads simply died. Today cane toads are a plague of almost biblical proportions and their numbers continue to boom.

After the Daintree River we moved on to Mossman gorge. But not before Carol decided to sample the delights of squeezing green ants for their acid spray - she says it tastes rather like sherbet. I'll take her word for it.

At Mossman gorge we were able to see the granite that makes up the mountains here in the form of massive boulders in the river. This is also where PD gets its water from, taken down from the mountains in a single, large diameter pipe - but it didn't seem that big for the whole town and all these hotels. They must work hard at conserving, we thought, an idea borne out by the signs on the golf courses, etc, announcing that 'recycled water' is used for irrigation. Our tour of the rainforest was complete for now and we had certainly learnt a lot - a fantastic learning experience for Project Ocean Vision.

Day 20: Wednesday 15th December 2010

Port Douglas.

Down Day - a day out from the Expedition Ocean Vision 4 routine. Eat, drink, sunbathe, relax. Prepare our kit for the trip back to Sydney tomorrow. We shall be sad to leave Queensland, it will always be a Project Ocean Vision favourite.

Day 21: Thursday 16th December 2010

Project Ocean Vision fly back to Sydney with Virgin Blue (Flight DJ1416).

Up early to sort ourselves out and catch the bus back to Cairns. Fun to be on a bus that happily detours off its route to drop people at their front door. The road from PD to Cairns looked even better to us than on the way north nine days ago. Knowing more about the environment, the country, the people and the rainforest in particular gave us a better understanding of our surroundings and a greater appreciation of this natural wonder.

Check-in involved the usual juggling to try to make us look like we were inside virgin blue’s baggage limitations and you-pay-for-everything policy – we made it, somehow. Cairns airport is very nice; new, clean, bright, lots of places to eat and drink or just to sit. Everyone is friendly and there are no massive queues anywhere. The loos are nice, everything is well sign-posted and even the security people manage a kind word and a smile.

Once again, the flight along the east coast afforded us some great views of the countryside below. It was obvious that there had been a lot of clearing of rainforest and this, of course, raises the risk of flooding - a point that would be borne out in just a couple of weeks.

Paul (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage (Project Ocean Vision) check back into The Russell Hotel,The Rocks, Sydney.


Cleard Rainforest Areas of rainforest cleared for human use

Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia, Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Russell Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia,
Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Carol Courtnage at The Rocks Museum, Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Carol Courtnage at The Rocks Museum, Expedition Ocean Vision 4

Day 22: Friday 17th December 2010

We ventured out into Sydney to start our exploration of the Rocks. It is a place to meet people and watch the world go by. We started with a milkshake at the Lowenbrau Keller, Sydney’s best known and highly authentic Bavarian Bar and restaurant. Right down to the lederhosen.

The Rocks area of Sydney is the site of the earliest european settlement in 1788. Today it is a vibrant area of pubs, restaurants, cultural centres and street markets.

We spent an hour looking through the Rocks Discovery Museum, located on the cobblestoned Kendall Lane. Artifacts from the area’s aboriginal people and from the early settlers painted a fascinating picture of The Rocks’ history, the lives of the early convict settlers. The museum is open daily and is small, but full of interest and is free to visit. www.therocks.com

We took a wander around Circular Quay and found ourselves at the magnificent Sydney Opera House. We weren’t supposed to be exploring the Opera House until tomorrow – plans were laid – so we made ourselves comfortable in the Opera Bar on the harbour wall which has seating build into it and cushions for added luxury. It is a brilliant place with great wine and appears to be where the better class of tourists – like us, of course - and smart locals go.

Paul Courtnage and Carol Courtnage
Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage, Australia 2010 (Expedition Ocean Vision 4) - Project Ocean Vision

Day 23: Saturday 18th December 2010

We had booked ourselves onto a lunch cruise of the harbour with Captain Cook Cruises today. After some early exploring, we wandered down to Quay number 6, Circular Wharf, and embarked on to a massive catamaran, which was beautifully presented and is highly recommended. The cruise plus lunch came in at $75 and is well worth it. Amazing food is laid on – oysters, prawns, salads - Courtney went for the chicken curry for ‘breakfast’. The cruise lasts for around 1¾ hours and gives a superb, new prospective on the city. Great views of the bridge and the Opera House, the Prime Minister’s residence, the suburbs out to North and South Points and round to the King Street Wharf. We got some amazing photographs and video. We also explored the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens.


Sydney Opera House, Expedition Ocean Vision 4 Sydney Opera House (Expedition Ocean Vision 4)

Sydney Sydney  

Day 24: Sunday 19th December 2010

From the early days of planning Expedition Ocean Vision 4 we had set aside a day to check out Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s zoological park. So today we caught the Sydney Ferry across to the zoo from Circular Quay. This in itself was quite a treat as it gave us another grand view of those famous landmarks. The Sydney Ferries are no youngsters, but they are very well built, brilliantly looked after and operated.

Taronga Zoo - Our Assessment

Taronga Zoo is superbly located, built on a hill on the north shore, overlooking the harbour, bridge and opera house. Cable cars transport visitors from the jetty to the top of the zoo, affording an aerial glimpse of the huge site and some of its residents. We had about three hours available, which wouldn’t really be enough to take it all in so we chose the bits that interested us most. In particular we wanted to see some of Australia’s native species and, most importantly, to get an idea how good the zoo is in ecological and conservation terms, how well the animals were looked after and what efforts they were making to contribute to breeding programmes for endangered and rare species.

The koala enclosure looks slightly small at first glance, but it is important to remember that these animals in captivity don’t actually need a lot of space as they are well fed, don’t need access to new trees for food all the time and spend some 20 hours a day sleeping. Koalas eat eucalyptus leaves, which are very poor in nutrition and they have had to make a number of adaptations to survive on them; the main one being to evolve a much smaller brain than other mammals of similar size – large brains are expensive organs to run. So they are easy to keep in captivity and these ones looked healthy and totally contented with their location.

Similarly the insects and arachnids are happy to live in relatively small spaces as long as their basic needs are taken care of. Some of the larger reptiles, the big snakes for example, could probably use a bit more space, but again they only really need a large range if they have to hunt for their own food.

Giraffes and zebras looked fine and well accommodated and the Asian elephants are happy enough to have bred recently and were raising two youngsters when we visited – a good sign of contentment.

A lot of bird species are kept at Taronga Zoo and we found it hard to judge whether they were happy in captivity or indeed whether they really needed to be there instead of out in the wild.

Their Big Cats collection boasts three lions and a tiger. These were well housed, but again it was difficult to judge if a zoo enclosure is the right place for predators of this size. They also have single snow leopard; zoos are probably becoming the only places one will ever be able to see these beautiful and extremely rare animals. Taronga is certainly doing a good job in raising awareness of the fate of the big cats and the threats to their survival – which are many and very serious.

There was something of a disturbance at the gorilla enclosure, the big silverback exerting his authority over a youngster. We were trying to decide whether the gorillas were acting normally or if this was a symptom of some frustration, brought about by a confined world and captivity? We think we recognised perfectly normal family behaviour – for gorillas – but maybe slightly exacerbated by confinement. But the gorillas generally looked in good condition and when simply going about their normal business they looked and acted like normal gorillas.

We found some really positive stuff; breeding programmes that would protect and repopulate threatened or declining species, looking for ways to overcome diseases and to maintain habitat. This is clearly a working zoo, for the most part, actively engaged in conservation projects and provided a safe environment for its residents. Some species were probably there purely as displays, but these were mostly well accommodated, obviously well cared for and the vast majority were content and in very good health.

Many zoos around the world have earned themselves very poor reputations. In the 60s and 70s, maybe the 80s, many were downright seedy, existing purely to exploit the animals for money. Things are changing and Taronga is certainly one of the world’s top zoos in our opinion. Project Ocean Vision like Taronga Zoo.

Visit the Taronga Zoo website.

Malaysia 747


Day 25: Monday 20th December 2010 onwards

Filming in The Rocks, Sydney. Project Ocean Vision return to UK, but Expedition Ocean Vision 4 isn't over yet.


21:55 20 December, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH140 to Kuala Lumpur. Arrives KL 21 December at 03:20.

10:45 21 December, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH4 to London, Heathrow.

16:15 21 December, Arrive LHR.


Severe delays were caused by snow at LHR, made worse by poor performance by the airport authorities and, in our case, Malaysia Airlines. After long delays in Kuala Lumpur, we made it come on 22nd December. We did much better than many other poor travelers at this time.

You can read more about Expedition Ocean Vision 4 in Courtney's personal journal - Vox Clamantis in Deserto, Chapter 15.

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