Cairns and Port Douglas

Port Douglas

Low Isles

Low Isles is a 1.6 hectare vegetated sand cay approximately 15km offshore from Port Douglas. Low Isles is actually two sand cays. One has sandy beaches, a lighthouse and palm trees and is known as “Low Isle”, the other is covered in mangroves and is called “Woody Island”. Both cays offer fringing coral reef in shallow water and are suitable for snorkelling. Named by Captain Cook in 1770, Low Isles has a lighthouse, tropical vegetation and fringing reef which is home to hundreds of marine turtles. The area is largely free of current. The reef is also home to anemones, giant clams, corals, turtles and lots of fish. A great day tour for snorkelers. There are no scuba diving tours to the Low Isles.

 

Agincourt Reef

The Agincourt Reef group consists of a number of separate reefs. Coral diversity and abundance varies greatly within the group. It has a good representation of the different habitat types associated with reefs in the general area. The Agincourt Reef group is close to the continental shelf, this causes it to be flushed by clear oceanic waters. Distant from Cairns and Port Douglas they are harder to get to and need a good weather period if using smaller craft. Agincourt Reefs are an extremely popular destination for tourist vessels operating out of Port Douglas. In 1998/99 approximately 140,000 tourists visited the Agincourt group of reefs. Most day trippers go to Agincourt Reef No 1 where there is a pontoon. There are also three semi-submersibles available for non-divers.

 

Opal Reef

Opal Reef is a considerable distance offshore from Port Douglas and access for most of the year is restricted to larger vessels although it is quite sheltered once at the reef.  Coral cover is moderately damaged in some areas by crown of thorn starfish. Opal Reef is regularly visited by a number of tourist vessels.

 

Tongue Reef

Tongue Reef is readily accessible from Port Douglas in prevalent weather conditions. The reef is a popular anchorage and is often visited by recreational fishers. Coral cover varies considerably over the reef complex. The most attractive area is known as Turtle Bay on the north-eastern end of the ‘Third Sister’ of Tongue Reef. Fish spawning aggregation sites have also been identified at Tongue Reef.  Tongue Reef is currently only lightly used as a tourist destination.

 

Cairns

 

Not so long ago, Cairns was a sleepy rural centre in the remote tropical north. Now it has a population of 160,000 people and receives 5 million international tourists each year spending $2.5 billion. Most of this interest is based on the attractive power of the Great Barrier Reef. An accident of geography has brought the reef closer to the coast here than it is at Townsville, or other secure harbours further south. Having a hinterland that is a wet tropics World Heritage Area doesn’t hurt either. It also has an international airport offering direct flights from major international cities. These days people think of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef almost in the same sentence, when the Cairns sector is only one small section of this massive natural wonder.

As a result of this focussed tourism, there are a range of facilities from the staggeringly expensive and exclusive, to the budget-friendly. Visitor numbers are growing, especially East Asian tourists. Despite frequent ups and downs in the international economy and concerns about the long-term health of the reef, tourist incomes in Queensland are expected to double to $30 billion by 2020.

It is a credit to the skilful management of the reef that the impact of this mass tourism has been limited to date and doesn’t represent a major threat to the reef. Despite the huge visitor numbers, Cairns and Green Island are still typified by lazy strolls along palm- lined walkways and beaches with vistas largely unmarred by litter, sewerage outfalls and looming high rise towers.

Cairns has a tropical climate, with generally hot and humid summers and milder dry winters. The average annual rainfall is 1992mm but the majority of Cairn’s rainfall occurs during summer between January and March. The cyclone season is normally confined to between December and April.

The months from May to October are dominated by the south east trade stream. These moist onshore winds often produce showers, mostly overnight. The strongest winds (cyclones excluded) usually occurring during April and August. During the summer months, North to Northeasterly sea breezes dominate the winds along the coast.

The tropics has fairly uniform temperatures throughout the year. Typical daytime min/max temperature ranges in Cairns are 23C/31C in mid-Summer and 18C/26C in mid-Winter.

 

  Max ° C Water Temp Natural events
Dec – February 31.6 -30.4 28-29 many turtle species are nesting and hatchingmost active cyclone season
March – May 25.8 – 29.2 26-27 juvenile fish are starting to appearBlack-tipped Reef Sharks give birthFrom May trade winds start coming up from the south
June – Aug 23.5 – 24.6 22-24 Dwarfe Minke whales and Manta Rays arrive on outer reefsIt can be windyFrom August Humpback whales arrive
Sept – Nov 27.3 -31.2 23 -26 The trade winds have started to drop by Oct.Fish aggregate in the reef shallows for spawningSeabirds breed

turtle mating and nesting

Nov coral spawning

 

Where to go on the reef depends a little on recent events. Disturbance by cyclones and crown of thorns starfish, coral disease and Drupella snail plagues are natural to a degree. The majority of reefs have recovered from Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and they largely missed a huge coral mortality event in March 2016, that badly damaged reefs further to the north. A more recent warming even has also caused some damage.

Charter operators out of Cairns are numerous and the pricing is very competitive considering the big effort it takes to get to the reef. They will depart on different days, to different places and for varying durations. The canny consumer has plenty of choice.

There are a number of large day ferries taking the time poor out to licensed moorings on the more visited reefs. Some stop off at pontoons that offer varying types of activity, but usually some snorkeling or diving. Some have family friendly activities too. This is a good spot to take your elderly parents or kids out for a glass-bottomed boat or submersible ride, when a longer boat ride might upset a tender stomach. It can get crowded and they don’t necessarily move the pontoon when the reef is damaged by a natural event. There are always great things to see, but this usually isn’t the type of pristine reef you might commonly see on the outer reef.

A few hundred dollars more will get you short 2-4 night stays on a larger liveaboard, with an opportunity to enjoy the sunset, imbibe a pricey beer from the bar, and take a bit more time exploring the reef shelf. Each operator has allocated moorings, so they each offer slightly different named dives. Up to 4 dives a day are offered, but expect the sound of racing engines at night as they try to move to new moorings to jam everything in to your short itinerary. Most trips are well-organised, active and a bit spartan for the light sleeper. You get what you pay for. There are s few boats offering these medium-length cruises, so shop around for the right fit.

Expect to pay two to three thousand dollars for longer trips up to a week or more. They tend to visit more remote locations, including the Coral Sea and even the Torres Strait. Some are diver focussed, others less so. The group sizes tend to be smaller, and often they run special activities like whale encounters and research activities. Some of the boats are well-appointed, but you are at sea and will have to rough it a little. No amount of money makes a vessel totally stable in a rough sea. The Great Barrier Reef is mostly well offshore, out of sight of land, and partly in the open ocean. You also need to pack a sense of humour and just roll with the mild bar noise and vibrating air conditioner that comes with even the pricey boats.

A charter trip with loved ones, or a few good friends (you can make some more while you are there too), is an experience you will remember forever.

Inshore Day trips

 

Upolu Cay

Upolu Cay is an unvegetated sand cay surrounded by coral reef, that lies 30 kilometers from Cairns. It offers protected, shallow waters. It is suitable for snorkelers and introductory scuba divers and gets more than 50,000 visitors a year. The activity is on the reef around the bare sand cay which is used sometimes as a stopover, only on very calm days. Being close to Cairns, it is popular with local boaties as well as motor sailer tourism expeditions. Upolu Cay is a Queensland National Park. A number of seabirds roost on Upolu Cay, such as black-naped terns, common noddies and crested terns. They are usually scared off by tourist landings.

Early in the day a large tour boat arrives with day trippers for snorkel trips or glass bottomed boat rides in the sandy shallows around the cay. In the afternoon they move to the outer edge of the reef.

 

Wonder Wall

14m

Snorkellors can visit the shallow reef flat in one to two metres while dive parties follow the reef edge in 10-12m. There are many different types of hard and soft coral, giant clams, turtles and reef fish. You can take a drift snorkel tour with a Marine Naturalist provided on the larger boats.

 

Green Island

16°46.007S 145°59.190E

1-10 metres

Green Island is a tiny coral cay which is easy to reach and offers resort facilities. Green Island is covered with dense greenery, surrounded by sandy beaches and a large coral reef system. It is 4 metres above sea level, 606 metres long, 200 metres wide and half a kilometre in circumference.

It is the most popular day trip on the reef with ferries offering trips for around the $100 mark. The day ferry disgorges a huge number of people, but they quickly disperse, leaving the island surprisingly tranquil. It gets more than 250,000 visitors annually, including many family tourists. The resort has restaurants and eateries. The eateries are caged in to prevent visitors from being pestered by the local birds who have quickly adapted to stealing food off tables. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk around the island, which is well-managed and still quite photogenic despite all that tourism pressure. The site is ideal for a family picnic and snorkel from the beach. A variety of watersports are available on the island. As an introduction to the tropics, it is a very memorable experience with small animals and even turtles encountered while snorkelling near the shore. An extensive seagrass meadow surrounds most of Green Island. Operators will also offer rides out to the nearby reef.

Like all inshore reefs, the visibility is variable and apparently deteriorating over time due to sediments from mainland agriculture. You won’t get the big 20 metre visibility of the outer reef. Hard coral cover around the island is pretty low with some crown of thorns starfish damage and bleaching. Scuba classes are offered on the island.

 

New York

14 m

This site offers shallow canyons full of fish life. Maori wrasse, trevally, emperor, anemone fish, barracuda, fusiliers and giant clams abound.

 

Three Sisters

14 m

This site offers deep coral formations, swim throughs, and is often current affected. Expect to see fusiliers, rabbitfish, sweetlips, snapper, coral trout and soft coral gardens.

 

Deep Mooring

25 m

This site offers deep coral formations, swim throughs, and is often current affected. Expect to see schooling barracuda and fusiliers, coral trout, sharks, turtles and large rays.

 

The Drift Dive

25 m

This is a drift dive between the Deep Mooring and New York, or in the opposite direction. Schooling barracuda and fusiliers, coral trout, sharks, turtles and large rays.

 

Ocean Free Mooring

This site is 1km off Green Island on a private mooring near some coral bommies. It offers a coral garden with the usual reef fish, damsels, parrot fish, trevally, spangled emperor, sweetlips. There are also turtles and occasionally black –tipped reef sharks.

 

Fitzroy Is

Fitzroy Island is 25km east of Cairns and travel time varies from 45-minutes to an hour. Day trips are offered, but you can also stay overnight or longer. Unlike Green Island, Fitzroy Island is a continental island, meaning it has less sand around it and more fringing reef than inshore cays like Green Island. On the downside, most of the beaches are coral rubble.

Fitzroy offers a large island with a less crowded resort. It is surrounded by a wild national park with short walking trails. The 20-minute Secret Garden Walk is a leisurely stroll through rainforest that returns along the same path. The hour-long Lighthouse & Summit Trail leaves from the northern end of Welcome Bay and heads steeply up to the lighthouse. From here there are views to Little Fitzroy Island.

There is a small and exclusive resort, or you can pitch a tent at the Fitzroy Island Camping Ground, run by the Cairns Regional Council. It has showers, toilets and barbecues.

 

Fitzroy Island scuba dives

Only one operator provides diving on Fitzroy Island. Most of the diving will is either from the beach, or nearby bays. Equipment is provided or you can take your own. Diving sites are usually under 15m, with plenty of marine life. Visibility is variable, between 5m – 15m.

 

Nudey Beach snorkel

The most popular snorkelling spot is around the rocks at Nudey Beach, a 1.2km walk from the resort.

Frankland Islands

Another day trip a bit more off the well-beaten track is the more remote Frankland Islands. These continental islands south of Cairns consist of High Island, Normanby, Mabel, Round and Russell Islands. Camping is available on High or Russell Islands, both feature rainforest areas. They are part of a national park.

The islands are coral-fringed with excellent snorkeling and they also offer white-sand beaches. The fringing reefs around Normanby, Russell and Round Islands supported diverse corals with almost 80 per cent live coral cover in the 1990s. Since then it has been a bumping ride of massive damage, followed by periods of steady recovery, only to be hit again by fresh events.

Sixty per cent of the fringing reefs were bleached by the 1998 warming event, but are recovering. Smaller poritid hard corals are now the dominant corals on the western Frankland Island reefs. The eastern Frankland Island reefs have also been impacted by grazing crown-of-thorns starfish, reducing hard coral cover to only 20 per cent by late 2000. It is anticipated that recovery from this severe impact could take several more years.

The Frankland Islands are still pretty both above and below the water and are an important habitat and nesting site for a number of bird species, such as the little tern, beach stone-curlew, pied imperial pigeon and the crested tern. Russell Island supports the spectacled flying fox and breeding pairs of sea eagles and ospreys. Green turtles are often spotted around the islands.

Russell Island camping is only permitted on weekdays outside of the peak season.  Numbers are also limited by permits. The area is popular with locals as it’s easily accessible by small vessels in most weather conditions and is relatively free from commercial development.

A number of public moorings are provided, with two public moorings near Normanby Island Reef and three near Russell Island Reef. Only one tourism operator holds permits to visit Normanby Island Reef on a daily basis and provides camper drop offs to Russell Island, but they aren’t cheap. They also run general wildlife, snorkelling tours and dives.

 

Reef Shelf Trips – Day and Moderate length

 

Norman Reef

 

 

Still possible as a day trip, but better done on a longer visit, is Norman Reef. It is one of the most popular reef destinations and is served daily by large craft, including some operating from moored pontoons. There are over 100,000 visitors annually and along with Hastings and Michaelmas, is one of the most visited tourist destinations on the reef shelf.

Being quite large the reef is able to absorb all this traffic and still offer some pristine diving. Its location on the reef shelf also ensures better visibility and more massive corals, than the inshore sites.

The coral has had a history of natural disturbance from cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. There are still plenty of good dive sites.

 

  • Norman Reef – Bob’s Bommie
    Pink soft coral and lots of smaller multi coloured table coral.
  • Norman Reef – Shark Mountain
    An easy site on a shrk=shaped bommies. There is a small wreck in a depth of approx. 10m on the northern wall. Large starfish and lots of grey reef sharks can be seen.
  • Norman Reef – Playground
    Sheltered by a ledge this is a preferred overnight mooring place. Night dives offer reef sharks cruising around the mooring lines, resident Queensland Grouper and even Eagle Rays chasing prey in the beam of the boats lights.
  • Norman Reef – Wild Side Clipper
    This dive site provides a terraced area on the south side of Norman Reef with cabbage coral and table corals. This site is also a popular feeding ground for turtles.
  • Norman Reef – Wild Side West, Wild Side East
    Two neighbouring dive sites are separated by a tongue of reef and can easily be combined into one long dive. WSW shows big lunar corals and a variety of anemone fish whereas WSE is a large bowl with rare star sand. During spring season lots of juvenile harlequin sweetlips swim around the stag horn corals.
  • Norman Reef – Plate Top
    On low tide swarms of fish all gather in one spot on the northern corner, anthias, yellowtail barracudas, anemone fish, gobys , sweet lips, trevallies and coral trout.
  • Norman Reef – Turtle Bay
    Great for turtles plus anemone shrimp, spider crabs, blennies and many other species of marine life.
  • Norman Reef – Clipper & Supercat
    These two sites lie nearby and both feature a swim through for the more experienced diver and a shallower canyon for beginners. Parrotfish, angelfish, and surgeonfish are some of the fish to be seen.
  • Norman Reef -  Sandra’s
    Various indentations in the reef terraces are filled with sand and coral boulders. Lots of smaller fish can be seen. A big school of humphead parrotfish is often seen cruising this area.
  • Norman Reef – Troppos
    This site offers a variety of nudibranches and pipefish. Razorfish are spotted digging themselves into the sand. The more experienced diver you can follow the reef wall around the northern edge to deeper areas.  The shallow mooring bay is perfect for exploration by the novice diver and snorkellers.
  • Norman Reef – Caves
    The site offers a big variety of anemonefish, blue spotted stingrays and cardinalfish. The dive site also offers a little cave with a resident Giant Maori Wrasse. Yellow or blue devil fish are seen along the cave’s roof.

 

Saxon Reef

 

Saxon Reef is located in between Norman Reef and Hastings Reef. The reef covers 1.9 square kilometers and is not often frequented by as many tour operators. Saxon Reef offers an abundance of diverse sites to explore for both snorkelers and scuba divers. Parts of the reef were severely bleached in March 2016.

  • Saxon Reef – Sandra’s 
    This is a shallow dive or snorkel with anemone fish, white tipped reef sharks and schools of yellow fin barracuda. The rare fire flame shell is also spotted there.
  • Saxon Reef – Twin Peaks
    Fish circle two bommies with a narrow swim through. There are schools of wild band fusiliers and humbug damsels. The reef offers lots of different nudibranchs.
  • Saxon Reef – Clipper & Super Cat
    From the boat moored close to the reef you can dive along the reef wall and  smaller offshore bommies. The Titan Triggerfish, the largest species of triggerfish has been seen here.
  • Saxon Reef – Coral Garden
    A shallow dive offering garden eels, anthias and spinecheek anemone fish gobies and lots of smaller soft corals.
  • Saxon Reef – Reef Magic
    Depending on the current, this dive site offers the possibility of a challenging dive around the reef edge. This area is home to humpback snappers, giant trevally and wild band fusiliers. Schools of Moorish idols and paddle tail snappers can be spotted in the shallow areas on the inner side of the reef.

 

Hastings Reef

Hastings Reef is within reach of recreational day-trippers leaving from Cairns and gets more than 70,000 visitors a year. Hastings Reef has been impacted by crown of thorn starfish outbreaks and coral bleaching. Its coral cover is rated at moderate levels overall, with the greatest coral cover on the north-eastern and north-western ends of the reef, the sites most used by tourism operators. The south-eastern end is heavily used by commercial operators in northerlies and coral cover is lower in this area. Parts of the reef were severely bleached in March 2016.

 

  • Hastings Reef – Sea Star/Tusa Mooring
    Located on the northern edge of Hastings Reef both dive sites are quite shallow dives or snorkels with a clam garden and staghorn corals. Fish include sweet lips, trumpet fish and parrotfish.

 

  • Hastings Reef – Turtle Bommie
    A cluster of smaller bommies dropping off deeper to the north, offering bat fish, stone fish,  anthias, fusiliers and turtles. Also lots of smaller table corals, sea fans and whip corals.

 

  • Jorgie’s Patches
    Situated in the Trinity Opening this dive site can be approached only on very calm weather. It boasts finger coral, anemones, scorpion fish, batfish, fusiliers, barracudas and anemone fish.

 

Michaelmas Cay

The Michaelmas Cay is a frequently visited reef system 43km north-east of Cairns and 17km north of Green Island. Travel time to Michaelmas Cay is 90-minutes to 2-hours. Michaelmas Cay is managed as a Sensitive Location and is scientifically surveyed annually. Michaelmas Cay is one of the most important seabird breeding sites within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The small, low sand cay is covered by grasses and low-growing plants. It is an ideal habitat for thousands of ground nesting seabirds. Common noddies, sooty terns, crested terns and lesser crested terns are the main breeding species, up to 20000 will nest on the island. This area is also a ‘no take’ zone for fishing. Access to Michaelmas Cay is only allowed between 9.30am and 3pm daily and is limited to the intertidal Restricted Access Area marked out by rope.

The coral cover declined from moderate to low levels after 1986 and has remained generally low since this time. Some sites have been severely affected by Crown of Thorns (COTS) with little live hard coral cover remaining. NE parts were severely bleached in March 2016.

Michaelmas Cay is a popular destination for local yachts and commercial tourism operators. The Cay provides good anchorage and over 60000 tourists visit annually. Sailing ships and catamarans offer full day tours including visits to the cay.

 

 

Michaelmas and Upolu Reefs are a part of the Arlington Reef system. If snorkelling around the cay you can expect to see giant clams, soft corals, anemone shrimp, sea cucumbers and schools of smaller fish.

 

Thetford Reef

5 to 30 metres

At approximately 40 nautical miles from the Cairns coastline, this outer reef site offers much better visibility. Thetford Reef is made up of numerous coral bommies, wall dives and many swim-throughs. Cathedral and Blue Lagoon are well-known sites.

This reef has good soft and hard corals like staghorn corals. It is known for the giant clams, butterfly fish, damsels and angelfish. Access to the reef is very weather and tide dependent. Moderate currents are experienced in the area. Visibility is often 15 to 20 metres.

 

Elford Reef

15m

Situated about an hour from the Cairns Coast. This reef system stretches for several kilometres. This reef has spectacular coral growth and teeming with a large array of marine life. dwarf minke whales, rays, manta rays, reef fish, turtles and groupers can be seen.

 

Moore Reef

1m to 25m

Moore Reef is a large reef complex providing good corals and fish life. Open ocean areas are flushed by clear water currents, where more sheltered have slightly higher turbidity.

Access to Moore Reef depends on fair weather but it is fairly frequently visited with about 20,000 visitors annually. There are a range of tourist activities 18 moorings, two pontoons, two helicopter pontoons, guided snorkelling, helmet diving and scooters.

 

Milln Reef

5 to 30 metres

Milln Reef is located approximately 60 kilometres offshore from Cairns. The reef is popular with tourist vessels and a number of day trip operations, as well as extended live-aboard dive trips. Due to its distance from the mainland access is generally limited to good weather days. Milln Reef offers a number of exciting dive sites such as Whale Bommie, Petaj Mooring, Swimming Pools I, Swimming Pools II and the Three Sisters Milln Reef offers excellent wall dives and swim throughs and is great for night diving. Mild Currents. Visibility is usually 15 to 20 metres.

 

Briggs Reef

1-25 metres

Briggs Reef has good coral coverage on the sheltered north-western end of the reef. The site has suffered from recent crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks. The reef has interesting features attracting considerable fish life.

Although day-trippers can reach Briggs Reef from Cairns, the access direction is unfavourable to the predominant weather pattern. On calmer days, Briggs Reef is visited mainly by small half-cabin boats for fishing.

The site boasts staghorn thickets, nudibranchs, christmas tree worms, feather stars, sea stars, sea fan and sea whips on the bommies and in the swim-throughs. White-tip reef sharks, wrasse, parrotfish, damsels, butterflyfish, angelfish, rabbitfish, surgeonfish, blue-spotted rays and seasonal manta-rays are also seen.

 

Sudbury Reef

1-53

This is the closest reef to Fitzroy Island resort. It has a sand cay on northern end of reef. There are many different dive locations around this vast reef from shallow snorkelling and steep drop offs. The site offers good fish and coral life. There are large sea fans, sea whips and tree corals.

 

Channel Reef

Up to 30m

Travel time to and from Cairns to the Outer Great Barrier Reef is anywhere between 90-minutes to 2-hours. Currents are dependent on the weather and time of day. Outer Great Barrier Reef sites are generally around 60km offshore, which means good visibility from 5m on a bad day, to 35m. If you can get there it’s well worth the trip.

 

Flynn Reef

5 to 30 metres

Flynn Reef is located approximately 60 kilometres offshore from Cairns. A few day trip operations utilise the reef and it is a location used by extended liveaboard dive trips and fishing charters. There are seven permitted moorings at Flynn Reef, and tourist operators take approximately 15,000 people to Flynn Reef per year. Due to its distance from the mainland, access is on limited good weather days. Flynn Reef is a Conservation Park.

These sites offer you excellent wall dives, swim-throughs, overhangs and night diving. Hard coral cover and fish life is moderate but still very attractive. At selected sites there are plenty of hard corals such as staghorn, table, plate and boulder coral heads and many species of soft corals. Well known dive sites at Flynn reef include  Tracy’s Bommie, Gordon’s Mooring, Tennis Court and the Coral Gardens. There can be mild currents and visibility of 15 to 20 metres.

 

Wreck of Catalina A24-25.

On the 28 February 1943, 11 crew boarded Catalina A24-25 in Cairns and headed for Papua New Guinea on a convoy escort mission during WWII. Cairns airport received a request from the plane for a searchlight to be switched on. Five more signals were sent from the plane asking for help to locate the airport in deteriorating weather and darkness. The plane’s final message, contained the words “force land”, was received at Townsville airport at 10.51 pm. A 3 day search found nothing.

The wreck of the Catalina seaplane was discovered by a recreational diver from Cairns, between the Frankland Islands and the reef shelf, about 40 kilometers north-east of Innisfail. There is a protected area around it requires permit to dive.

 

 

Flora Reef

2-12m

 

There are some nice corals and fish on the reef slope down to 12 metres. The reef is relatively remote and rarely dived. This reef is not to be confused with the Flora Reef in the Coral Sea.

Although a small and overgrown site, it main claim to fame is that it is home to an historic wreck site. HMS Mermaid, was a small 18metre long wooden cutter the small surveying vessel used by Phillip Parker King and was involved in the establishment of new colonies at Port Macquarie, Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island. From 1817 to 1822 Parker King undertook a series of voyages to chart vast areas of coast stretching from Arnhem Land to Cape Leeuwin and King George Sound to the Great Barrier Reef. In 1829, it was wrecked on the SW tip of the reef, while on a voyage from Sydney the Northern Territory. The wreck site of the Mermaid was located by the Silentworld Foundation and the Australian National Maritime Museum in 2009.

She is in snorkelling depths on the coral shallows on the usually exposed southern weather side of the reef. Apart from some concretions, most of the wreck is covered in coral. The wreck is historic and can’t be disturbed.

 

Ruby Reef and aircraft wreck

The reef flat of this remote reef offers an interesting snorkel with one highlight being the wreck of a WWII aircraft.

The Vengeance was a dive bomber design that never enjoyed much success, being passed off to the RAAF after being rejected by the USAAF. Vultee Vengeance, A27-235, of 12 Squadron RAAF, was engaged an anti-submarine patrol. After flying for 1 hour 50 minutes, the fuel cut out. The pilot made a forced landing in the shallows on 4 August 1943. As the aircraft began to sink, the crew climbed into their rubber dinghy. The crew were rescued by an RAAF Catalina seaplane of 20 Squadron RAAF.

This aircraft is located on Ruby Reef in about 2 meters of water. It is very exposed to the elements and is slowly being engulfed by the coral. The tail of the aircraft has been broken off by the weather and is said to be in the lagoon behind the wreck in about 20 m of water.