The Diversity of the Mossman River

Published on: 2 October 2021
Saw shell turtle sitting in the rainforest

Visiting the Mossman River with Back Country Bliss Adventures? Take a moment to learn about our incredible diversity and ecological history that brought us to where we are now.

We know that the rainforest surrounding Tropical North Queensland is pretty special. In fact, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area stretching from Cooktown to just north of Townsville is home to the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. Over the course of millions of years (about 130 million!) this rainforest has stood the test of time, thriving where others have crumbled. We’re pretty lucky to call it our backyard.

Situated along the Great Dividing Range, it is thanks to these steep mountains that we have the Mossman River and the Wet Tropics Rainforest flourishing to this day. The moisture from the ocean is blown across the coast and captured by the steep mountains, causing frequent rain (it’s called the Wet Tropics after all!). This rain keeps our rainforest going and feeds our beautiful Mossman River.

The Mossman River has carved its path through the Daintree Rainforest for an awfully long time now, feeding into Mossman Gorge and flowing as it does today, crystal-clear and breathtakingly beautiful.

The Mossman River is situated close to the town of Mossman, about 20 minutes outside of Port Douglas and 90 minutes north of Cairns in Daintree National Park. When visiting the river with Back Country Bliss Adventures on the River Drift Snorkelling Tour you’ll learn more about its incredible diversity and rich eco-system; but for those wanting a sneak peek now… read on.


Thankfully the best swimming and snorkelling spots in the Mossman River are crocodile free due to its cooler temperatures. Crocodiles prefer to keep their body temperature at 30 – 33 degrees Celsius which is best achieved where the river flows into the ocean. With the rainforest lined areas of the Mossman River being too clear, too shaded and too cold at 16 to 22 degrees Celsius for these large lizards.

Daintree rainforest tours


This rainforest is home to four species of freshwater turtles, and the turtle you are most likely to spot while drifting along the Mossman River is the Saw-Shelled Turtle. Turtles here eat mostly fruits, fish, tadpoles and insects, all of which are found in the Mossman River. On tour be sure to keep your eye out as the day heats up as the best time to spot a freshwater turtle in the wild is in the middle of the day as they emerge out of the water.

Saw shell turtle sitting in the rainforest

Over 30 Species of Fish

The Wet Tropics World Heritage area is a hub of diversity and this, of course, extends to freshwater fish! In fact, 78 of Australia’s 190 species of freshwater fish can be found in this world heritage wonder and more than 30 species of fish can be found in the Mossman River. Throughout your River Drift Snorkelling tour you’ll experience life below the surface as you snorkel through, seeing many of these fish with your own eyes.

Freshwater snorkelling mossman gorge

The 30+ species of freshwater fish is not just all that we also have here… We’ve also

Discovered 3 species of fish never previously recorded in the Mossman River.

In the last few years, Back Country Bliss Adventures has discovered 3 species of fish in the Mossman River. These fish are known to science but have never been recorded in the Mossman. This is particularly exciting because one of them is the Opal Cling Goby (Stiphodon Semoni) which is critically endangered.

In addition to the Opal Cling Goby, Back Country Bliss Adventures has also recorded the first sightings of the Emerald Cling Goby (Stiphodon Pelewensis) and the Freshwater Pipefish (Microphis Leiaspis) in the Mossman River.

Back Country Bliss Adventures then contributes this data to freshwater ecologist Brendan Ebbner, who conducts the majority of the research in the freshwater streams of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Brendan was blown away by the diversity of the area of Mossman River that Back Country Bliss Adventures’ snorkel in.


Dragons are real and you can find them in the Wet Tropics! Keep your eyes out for the Boyd’s Forest Dragon as you explore the Mossman River. These dragons are special because they are endemic to the Wet Tropics Area, meaning they aren’t found anywhere else in the world. You’ll have to be eagle-eyed to spot our friend, as they can be so well camouflaged against the rainforest that they can be difficult to spot (even when you’re looking right at them!)

Boyds Forest Dragon Mossman Gorge

Colourful Birds

If you want to find colourful birds, then the Wet Tropics of Tropical North Queensland is the place to be. This rainforest is home to almost half of Australia’s bird population, with about 370 species of birds found between Cooktown and north of Townsville. The most popular is the ancient cassowary. Thought of as living dinosaurs, these flightless birds roam the rainforest floor dispersing forest fruit along the way. More than 70 species of fruit in the rainforest can only be dispersed by cassowaries, making them fundamental to the ecosystem. If you see a cassowary in the wild, remember to admire from a distance and do not get too close and always be cass-o-wary when driving through the Daintree.

Vibrant butterflies

Tropical North Queensland is known for being a haven of beautiful butterflies. As you drift along the Mossman River don’t be surprised to see butterflies fluttering in the foliage above you. The easiest to spot (and perhaps the most popular of all the butterflies in this region) is the vibrantly blue Ulysses butterfly. With a wing span between 100 and 130mm, this butterfly flies quite erratically to ward off potential predators.

Ulysees butterfly sitting on green leaves
Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland


Over 300 mammals call the Wet Tropics Rainforest their home and in fact, 13 species of the mammals found in this rainforest are found no where else on Earth. While the platypus can be found across Australia, it is definitely a crowd favourite, so while you are drifting along the Mossman River be sure to keep an eye out for our friend.

We hope to see you exploring the Mossman River and Daintree Rainforest with us soon!

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