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TURTLES AND LEOPARDS GALORE AT THE NORTHERN LEDGE

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

The Northern Ledge at Cook Island is one of those wonderful dive sites where you can see just about anything. Over the years we have dived this site we have seen sharks, rays, turtles, reef fish, schooling fish and a great range of invertebrates and critters. It is a dive site that never disappoints and on a recent visit it was swarming with turtles and leopards!

 

We were diving at Easter, usually a time of notorious bad weather, however the weather wasn’t too bad today, overcast and windy, but it was a lot better than it had been for the last two months, which had seen us out of the water due to cyclones, big seas and a huge deluge of rain. Meeting up at the boat ramp at Tweed Heads, we were diving with Ocean Dive Charters with a group of divers from Brisbane Dive Academy (who generally have the boat booked most weekends).

 

Booked on the second trip of the day at 11am, we set up our gear as we waited for Ocean Dive to return from the morning dive charter. When the boat tied up the earlier group where all smiles, having had two great dives at Cook Island, the conditions were so good that even Chris Mair, the owner/operator of Ocean Dive Charters had been for a dive, the first time in months! Chris has been running dive charters to the wonderful dive sites off the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads for over twenty years, and operates Ocean Dive, an 8.4m fisher mono-hull surveyed for ten divers.

 

The run out to Cook Island only takes twenty minutes, so before we knew it we were tying up to one of the moorings at the Northern Ledge, the most sheltered spot from the southerly winds. Cook Island is a marine sanctuary and one of the best dive sites in this part of the country.

 

The surface water looked green, but once on the bottom the visibility opened up to 15m. Before us was a boulder wall, home to abundant reef fish and decorated by corals. We were saving this wall for the end of the dive, so headed north, exploring the scattered boulders and sandy bottom in depths to 16m. Within minutes we had seen blue gropers, sweetlips, wrasse, angelfish, morwongs, bream and several green turtles. As we swam along we were seeing turtles everywhere, while you always see a few at Cook Island, we were finding dozens today.

 

We photographed the turtles, but were on the lookout for sharks and rays, which are always abundant at this site. We soon encountered spotted wobbegongs, blue spotted stingrays, black blotched stingrays and even one shy white spotted shovelnose ray. But a feature was the number of leopard sharks. With the water temperature at 23°C it was close to the end of the leopard shark season, which are summer visitors that love warm water, so we were quite surprise to see so many leopards still lazing about. We encounter around a dozen before we turned around and headed back to the boat.

 

On the way back to the boat we had a school of kingfish and squadron of spotted eagle rays zoom pass us, but then we stumbled across turtle central, a spot with around a dozen green turtles drifting about or just resting on the bottom. It must have been a reptile convention as there were turtles everywhere! We tried to get photos of them grouped together, but the most we got in one image was four turtles.

 

Towards the end of the dive we headed into the shallows to explore the coral gardens and boulder wall. Here were anemones populated by anemonefish, reef fish, nudibranchs, moray eels, octopus and numerous ornate wobbegongs. A macro lens would have been handy as we found three pineapplefish and a tiny colourful dragonet.

 

After a surface interval of cake and coffee, we explored more of the Northern Ledge, this time heading south. Only a handful of turtles on this part of the reef, but there seemed to be more fish, including schools of snapper, sweetlips, fusiliers and batfish. Leopard sharks were again common, we must have seen around six, but there were also numerous blue spotted stingrays and white spotted shovelnose rays.

 

Towards the end of the dive the visibility started to deteriorate, low tide runoff from the Tweed River. With the reduced visibility we headed into the shallows to finish the dive looking for smaller creatures; porcelain crabs, shrimps, gobies, blennies, nudibranchs and several more dragonets.

 

Two wonderful dives at Cook Island’s Northern Ledge was a great way to start our Easter long weekend.

 

 

 

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