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THE FORGOTTEN REEFS OF MOOLOOLABA

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

For the last eight years one of the most popular dive sites in Australia has been the former navy destroyer HMAS Brisbane, located off Mooloolaba. Divers come from around Australia and from overseas to explore this wonderful artificial reef, but as many have discovered there is much more to Mooloolaba that just this old warship, as countless rocky reefs are found off this part of the Sunshine Coast.

 

We use to regularly dive these rocky reefs, but have been so distracted by the wonderful diving to be experienced on HMAS Brisbane that we hadn’t dived these reefs for the last few years. Wanting to get reacquainted with Mooloolaba’s reefs, we booked a double dive with Scubaworld; a family business owned and operated by Ian McKinnon and his sons Mike and Rob.

 

Scubaworld opened for business in 1979 and is conveniently located at Mooloolaba Wharf, directly opposite Underwater World. Scubaworld operate weekend and midweek dive trips to HMAS Brisbane and the local reefs on their well appointed dive boat DIVE EXPRESS, a 11.3m long rigid hull inflatable.

 

Meeting at the dive shop at 6.45am, we quickly had our gear loaded on the dive boat for a 7.30am departure, as the boat is conveniently located just behind the dive shop. The weather was perfect, no wind and calm seas, the water just a little greenish after two months of rain and rough seas. Chris, the skipper, soon had us anchored on Outer Gneerings Reef, a large reef complex with dozens of dive sites. The Coral Gardens was our first dive, a site we hadn’t dived for over ten years, so we were looking forward to seeing how it had changed.

 

On the surface the visibility was terrible, only 3m, but fortunately once we descended it opened up to 12m on the bottom. We then spent the next hour exploring the gutters, ledges and caves at this pretty site in depths from 16m to 22m. The coral coverage was as good as we remembered, the bottom covered in hard corals, soft corals, sponges, ascidians, gorgonians and black coral trees.

 

With a macro lens we searched the reef for small subjects, quickly finding sea stars, scorpionfish, butterflyfish, gobies and a lovely volute and flatworm. There were also plenty of nudibranchs, a feature of the Sunshine Coast as this area is renowned for the number and variety of these colourful molluscs. Reef fish were also abundant, including angelfish, sweetlips, fusiliers, coral trout and one massive Spanish mackerel.

 

Between dives Chris moved the boat near the beach, for a morning tea of chocolate, lollies and savoury buns. We then headed back out to the Outer Gneerings Reef, only ten minutes away, for our second dive at Heath’s Ledges.

 

This was a new spot for us, but had similar terrain to other sites on the Gneerings with gutters and ledges in 17m to 22m. We quickly found nudies, molluscs, shrimps, sea stars, harlequin tuskfish, sweetlips, shrimp gobies and a honeycomb moray eel to photograph. One patch of reef was covered in anemones that were populated by three species of anemonefish, plus the odd commensal shrimp and porcelain crab. One of the anemonefish caught our eye as it had the ugliest face of any anemonefish we had ever seen, it looked a bit like ‘Voldermort’ from the Harry Potter films!

 

Our dive ended all too quickly, but left us keen to explore more of the forgotten but wonderful reef diving sites off Mooloolaba.

 

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