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MOOLOOLABA MAGIC

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has always been a popular holiday destination, but was little known as a dive destination until nine years ago. That all changed on July 31st 2005 when a series of explosions sent HMAS Brisbane to the bottom of the ocean off Mooloolaba.

 

We were in the crowd that day, watching with anticipation as the 133m long guide missile destroyer was scuttled after an illustrious career in the Australian Navy. After waiting several hours for the big event it was all over in just three minutes, a big bang, a puff of smoke and HMAS Brisbane was gone!

 

Three days later we had our first chance to explore this new artificial reef. That very first dive was very exhilarating, exploring a brand new shipwreck sitting perfectly upright on a sandy bottom. HMAS Brisbane was resting in 27m of water, with the decks in 15m and the funnels at 3m – the perfect depth for divers of any level of experience to enjoy.

 

For an hour we explored the exterior of the ship, our first tour taking us to the two large gun turrets, the missile silo, around the bridge, radar tower and funnels, under the stern and along passageways. An hour on HMAS Brisbane passed all too quickly, an incredible dive, but we did note how clean and sterile she looked with no marine life on her – but that quickly changed. In only a few weeks fish and invertebrate species had claimed the ship as a home, while algae and corals started to establish. Now, nine years later, HMAS Brisbane is a thriving artificial reef, covered in colourful sponges and corals and home to a menagerie of marine life.

 

On a typical dive on the old warship divers will encounter countless reef and pelagic fish; schools of mulloway, kingfish, trevally, snapper, mackerel, barracuda, fusiliers and batfish. Situated in a subtropical zone tropical reef fish inhabit the ship; common being lionfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, scorpionfish, hawkfish, anemonefish and many others. But keep an eye out for some of the more unusual fish, like the painted anglerfish and ornate ghost pipefish that occasionally appear. Also commonly seen on HMAS Brisbane are gropers, moray eels, eagle rays, turtles, stingrays and shovelnose rays, but divers have also encountered leopard sharks, dolphins, grey nurse sharks, humpback whales and even a sunfish.

 

There is also no shortage of invertebrate species to be seen, macro photographers will find cleaner shrimps, commensal shrimps, crabs, flatworms, mantis shrimps, octopus, sea stars, feather stars, crayfish, cuttlefish and a great range of nudibranchs.

 

While exploring the exterior of HMAS Brisbane is always fun there is also a great deal to be seen inside, with the ship made safe for penetration with 30 access holes cut into the hull. The best way to enter the interior is to drop down the funnel, an exciting plunge which will take you straight into the engine room. Divers can also explore the kitchen, rec room, countless cabins and passageways and the operations room where the missile launch computers are still in place. With four levels and hundreds of rooms we still haven’t explored all this magnificent old warship, even after fifty odd dives.

 

It takes at least a dozen dives to properly tour HMAS Brisbane, but it isn’t the only dive attraction in the area. Often overlooked by visiting divers are the wonderful reefs off Mooloolaba.  The Gneering Reefs, Murphy’s Reef and Mudjimba Island are all decorated with lovely hard and soft corals and home to a diverse range of species. These reefs are particularly famous for their nudibranchs, with this section of coastline recording more species of these colourful sea slugs than anywhere else on the planet. But you will also see reef fish, wobbegong sharks, stingrays, turtles and numerous pelagic fish.

 

One of the best things about Mooloolaba is that diving can be enjoyed year round, and all the sites are close to shore, so no long boat rides. The visibility averages 12m, but it can be over 20m after southerly winds, with winter generally bringing the most stable weather and the clearest water. Two dive shops are based in the area and offer daily boat dives and dive courses to any level.

 

Naturally diving is not the only attraction on the Sunshine Coast, with the area having a range of accommodation to suit every taste and budget. Local attractions include the lovely beaches, numerous national parks, the rugged hills of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the aquariums at Underwater World and Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. The Sunshine Coast is the perfect holiday destination with something for everyone.

 

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