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


It always annoys and puzzles me to hear and read about people bagging the diving off Cairns. ‘The coral is all dead or broken’, ‘there is nothing to see’, ‘the visibility is terrible’, ‘you have to dive with a guide’ and ‘it is only good for beginners’ are all typical and untrue comments. When questioned about their comments it turns out most of these people have never dived off Cairns. I have dived Cairns many times and I can say the diving is superb and the dive operators are wonderful.


My most recent trip to Cairns was in August to launch my new dive guide book to the Great Barrier Reef – CORAL WONDERLAND. With the book launch completed, I had two spare days to dive, so organised to join one of the best dive boats operating off Cairns, Tusa T6.


Launched in August 2011, Tusa T6 is a 24m long catamaran that has seating for 120 passengers, but limits passenger numbers to just 60. Now 60 people may sound like cattle truck diving to some, but on a typical trip on T6 you are sharing the boat and the water with mainly snorkelers and people doing a discover scuba experience. On most trips there are rarely more than a dozen certified divers, and best of all you have the choice of following a guide or doing your own thing, and dive times are generally around an hour.


Boarding the boat at 7.30am with my buddy Stuart Ireland, the conditions on the first day couldn’t have been better, warm, sunny and light winds. Heading to the saloon area we completed our paperwork and enjoyed a tasty pastry, before setting up our dive gear on the spacious dive deck. The boat departed at 8am for the 90 minute trip to the outer reef, and after getting the boat brief from trip director Jason and a dive brief from Kaito, we relaxed in the upper cabin and on the sundeck.


Before we knew it we were informed to start gearing up as we had arrived at Saxon Reef. The crew quickly had the boat tied to the mooring, and once the tender was launched and the duckboard hydraulically lowered, we could explore Twin Peaks. This site is one of the best at Saxon Reef and features two massive bommies rising from 18m to almost break the surface.


Stuart, who lives in Cairns, has dived this site many times, so I followed him for a guided tour. We first explored several smaller bommies under the boat, and found the visibility a wonderful 30m. On these smaller bommies was a good variety of reef fish and invertebrates, but the two main bommies were much better. Decorated with soft corals, gorgonians, sea whips and hard corals, we slowly swam around these giant bommies to see whitetip reef sharks, barracuda, batfish, gropers and schools of snappers, sweetlips and fusiliers. Returning to the mooring we had fun photographing a day octopus that was slowly crawling over a small coral head.


During the dive I closely inspected the hard corals, curious to see the damage from the widely reported coral bleaching event from earlier in the year. I was very happy to see the great majority of the corals had recovered, with little evidence of bleaching. In fact most of the coral looked quite healthy and Stuart informed me that the coral bleaching wasn’t as bad as originally reported.


After a second dive at Twin Peaks, we enjoyed a very filling smorgasbord lunch, while the skipper moved the boat to Hasting Reef for the afternoon dive at Fish Bowl. Stuart informed me that this site had been one of the worst affected off Cairns by coral bleaching, and it was good to see only a few patches of staghorn coral now showing any signs of bleaching. We had a wonderful dive exploring the shallow coral gardens at this site, and didn’t get below 10m. In the shallows were pretty hard corals, giant clams and a multitude of reef fish. We also saw a blue spotted lagoon ray, a green turtle, batfish, sweetlips and a giant triton shell. After an hour long dive, we washed the gear, packed it away and relaxed as we headed back to port.


The next day the wind had picked up, and upon departing the port was blowing 20 to 30knots from the south. Fortunately Tusa T6 is a very stable and comfortable boat that easily handled the rough conditions on the way to the outer reef. Once moored at Saxon Reef, we were sheltered from the chop and had calm conditions to dive.


Today I buddied up with Steve and Allan, two experienced divers, as we explored a site called Turtle Bommie. We didn’t see any turtles, but in the 20m visibility explored pretty coral gardens and bommies in depths to 14m. Over the two dives we encountered whitetip reef sharks, gropers, sweetlips, moray eels, barracuda, mackerel and an octopus. With a macro lens on my camera I was busy photographing all the wonderful reef fish and also had fun with two broadclub cuttlefish.


With calm conditions behind Saxon Reef, the skipper decide to relocate to a nearby mooring, rather than risk people getting seasick moving to another reef. So for the afternoon dive we explored a pretty site called the Coral Gardens. This lovely reef was home to a wide range of species including barramundi cod, rabbitfish, parrotfish, angelfish and nudibranchs. However, a good variety of gobies and blennies kept my camera busy.


Heading back to Cairns in the afternoon, after two brilliant days of diving, I can easily say that if you avoid diving Cairns because of false rumours from people that haven’t dived this area, then you are missing out on a very special part of the Great Barrier Reef.




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