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
DIVING CAIRNS WITH DOWN UNDER DIVE
By Nigel Marsh
Whenever I am in Cairns I always like to join a day trip to explore the local reefs. Cairns has some fabulous dive sites packed with a wide variety of marine life, but after two recent coral bleaching events I was keen to see how healthy the corals really were.
For my day on Cairn’s local reefs I booked with Down Under Dive, which operate one of the newest dive boats departing from this busy tourist town, Evolution. Only launched last year, Evolution is a 33m long catamaran, and while surveyed for 200 passengers, they take out a maximum of 160 people. Joining me for the day on the reef was an old mate and Cairns local, Stuart Ireland.
Boarding the vessel in the morning, we signed off our paperwork and had a look around this impressive dive boat. Evolution has three levels, several lounge areas and a sundeck, bar and huge dive deck. And even with over one hundred passengers on board the vessel didn’t feel crowded with plenty of space to stretch out.
We were soon underway, heading out to Saxon Reef. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best – strong winds and choppy seas. Still better than the stormy conditions that had been hitting Cairns for the previous few days. The large vessel easily cut through the swell and after little more than an hour we found ourselves on the outer reef ready to explore the Coral Gardens. I had dived this site before so was very keen to see the condition of the hard coral.
Once in the water we found the visibility to be 10m, not too bad after several days of large seas and heavy rain. Over the next hour we explored the pretty hard coral gardens and I was pleased to see that the great majority looked healthy and alive. Going no deeper than 12m, Stuart and I explored the reef and found a giant moray eel, barramundi cod, nudibranchs, angelfish, fusiliers and many other reef fish.
Our second dive was at the same site, so we headed in a different direction. More healthy hard corals, plus sweetlips, parrotfish, rock cods and several giant clams.
After a great lunch the boat relocated to nearby Hastings Reef and a site called the Blue Pools. The visibility here was much clearer at 15m and we had a wonderful dive exploring more healthy hard coral gardens. This lovely dive site had walls, gutters and extensive coral gardens in depths to 12m. During the dive we saw stingrays, Maori wrasse, coral trout, sweetlips, barramundi cod and several giant clams. It was a lovely dive and a great relief to see the great majority of hard corals were alive and well.
We had a great day of diving with Down Under Dive and returning to port, I discussed the state of the reefs off Cairns with Stuart, who is a marine biologist and regularly dives these local reefs. He informed me that the coral bleaching events mainly affected the inner reefs and much of the coral survived. He also added that new coral growth on many of the bleached reefs is already evident. This is backed up by a recent report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which found that the coral have recovered quicker than expected and are showing signs that they will reproduce two to three years earlier than expected.
If you believe reports in the media you would think that half the reef is dead from these recent coral bleaching events. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes the northern half of the Great Barrier Reef took a massive hit from this coral bleaching, but most of the coral survived. We have to take great care of this natural wonder of the world, by improving water quality and minimising the impacts of climate change, to ensure that it survives for future generations of divers to enjoy.
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