N I G E L    M A R S H    P H O T O G R A P H Y

U  N  D  E  R  W  A  T  E  R      I  M  A  G  E  S     A  N  D     A  R  T  I  C  L  E  S


by Nigel Marsh


I was simply amazed, the coral gardens all around me were some of the best I had seen in over thirty years of diving the Great Barrier Reef. You might think I was diving a very remote section of this natural wonder of the world, but no I was diving the Agincourt Reefs off Port Douglas, one of the most popular day trips on the entire Great Barrier Reef.


Over the last thirty years I have been fortunate to explore almost every section of the Great Barrier Reef, but for some reason I had overlooked the diving out of Port Douglas. On a recent trip to Cairns I finally decided it was time to checkout Port Douglas, a lovely holiday town one hour north, so contacted the Quicksilver Group that operate some of the best dive boats in Queensland. With three days to spare I had time to experience diving from their two main dive boats – Poseidon and Silversonic.


I was impressed with these well-appointed dive boats. They are both large and very stable catamarans, Poseidon 24m long and Silversonic 29m long. And though they carry around 80 passengers to the outer reef each day, neither boat felt crowded, this is because they are over 7m wide, and have huge dive decks, lounge rooms and upper sundecks. With that many people on the boat you would also think that the dive sites would be packed with people, but the great majority of passengers are snorkelers, the number of certified divers is generally no more than a dozen, and often much less.


Departing at 8.30am, we barely had time for the dive briefing and setting up our gear before we arrived at the Agincourt Reefs at 10am (both boats power out to the reef at an impressive 25 knots). If you haven’t heard of the Agincourt Reefs before you probably know its near neighbour, the famous Ribbon Reefs, which are a continuation of the same fringing reefs. The Agincourt Reefs sit on the edge of the continental shelf and are over 20km long. While gearing up for the first dive the crew informed me that they have over 40 dive sites to choose from on this large reef system.


Our first dive was just magic at a spot called Castle Rock. Jumping in to find the visibility over 30m was a great start to a wonderful dive. This site consists of a large coral bommie that rises from 26m to almost break the surface. While the bommie was fun to explore, the best part of the dive was found in the shallows where the beautiful hard coral gardens left me breathless. The hard corals here were just exquisite, some of the best I had seen on the entire Great Barrier Reef, and also very healthy and unbroken, amazing when you consider the number of snorkelers and divers that visit this site.


In the shallows were schools of snapper, fusiliers and goatfish, but I also encountered sweetlips, giant clams, countless reef fish and a white-tip reef shark. But the main feature of this site was Colin, the resident Malabar groper, over one metre long and happy to pose for photographs.


Our second dive at Wreck Bay was also brilliant; more coral gardens, a multitude of reef fish and schools of drummer. After lunch, a very filling smorgasbord of cold meats and salads, it was time for our third dive at The Point. This was another great dive, a wall dropping to 30m plus, beautiful soft corals in deeper water and lovely hard corals in the shallows. Drifting along the wall we encountered two grey reef sharks, a white-tip reef shark, several Maori wrasse and a large flowery groper. Heading back to port we arrived at Port Douglas at 4.30pm after a very full day.


On day two I dived Turtle Bay in the morning, another enjoyable dive exploring a collection of bommies in 20m of water. But the second dive at Nursery Bommie was spectacular. This tower of coral is similar to bommies I have dived on the Ribbon Reefs. Rising from 25m, Nursery Bommie is home to schools of snapper, barracuda, trevally and drummer. But we also saw coral trout, red bass, surgeonfish and a beautiful leaf scorpionfish. Our third dive was a return to Castle Rock, and it was just as good the second time round.


Day three and I was ready to explore more new sites on the Agincourt Reefs. First up it was Barracuda Bommie, which proved to be even better than Nursery Bommie. This pinnacle rises from 26m and is decorated with gorgonians, sea whips, sponges and black coral trees. A massive school of snapper swarmed around its base, but we also encountered barracuda, turtles, trevally, fusiliers, coral trout, sweetlips, drummer and many other species. The sand around the bommie was also home to garden eels, shrimp gobies and blue spotted stingrays. What a great dive.


Dive two and it was something different, a drift dive along a wall that finished in Turtle Bay. This wall dropped into 40m plus and was covered in some lovely hard corals, soft corals, gorgonians and sea whips. Drifting along we encountered turtles, Spanish mackerel, grey reef sharks, humphead parrotfish and schools of snapper.


My final dive at the Agincourt Reefs was at a site called Phil’s Reef. Here we did another drift dive over pretty coral gardens; spotting turtles, sweetlips, stingrays, coral trout, gropers, snapper and parrotfish.


After nine dives on the Agincourt Reefs I must say I was impressed by not only the wonderful corals, but also the wealth of marine life I saw on every dive. The sites I explored were as good as many I had dived on the Ribbon Reefs, which is generally considered one of the best locations on the Great Barrier Reef. I know next time I am in Cairns I will be looking forward to a side trip up to Port Douglas to explore more of the wonderful Agincourt Reefs.


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