Celebration of the Reef, Great Barrier Reef

By Bob Halstead

Celebration of the Reef

Celebration of the Reef

Celebration of the Reef

Captain Larry, Spoilsport, announced our one-week cruise north from Cairns would include a couple of spectacular days at Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. We had cause for celebration as the Great Barrier Reef has made a magnificent comeback during the past six years. The outer reef coral gardens have regenerated and are full of fishes. Cooperation between the various dive operators means there is only one boat on a site at a time. Fishes are accustomed to friendly divers and, even without being fed, come far closer than they do in, say, the wilds of PNG. Early in the morning we were gearing up for dives at Challenger Bay. This sheltered reef has a glorious shallow coral garden. We had only just moored, but a school of trevally was waiting to greet us right under the boat. I was forced to abandon my philosophy of ‘Get to the bottom fast and ask questions later’ and shoot some pictures of them. After two dives we moved to the famous Cod Hole to play with the gallant potato cod. We got as close as possible, but never touching. We then steamed overnight to Osprey Reef. Most of the day was an open dive deck at the Fairy Grotto with plenty of reef fishes, gorgeous red sea whips and… ahem… quite deep, some big coral sea soft corals. It looked enticing even deeper down the wall so it was probably a good thing I was on nitrox and depth limited.

The next morning we dived Round the Bend with lots of sharks and soft corals. No mantas this time but one diver surfaced, to my frustration, with a shot of a thresher shark. The day climaxed with a fabulous shark feed at North Horn. There were lots of whitetip, grey reef and silvertip sharks. The feed was brilliantly set up in a natural coral amphitheatre so divers could be as close, or distant, from the action as they choose. The risk was low, as these sharks knew the difference between divers and the bait.

For the second dive at North Horn we dived the Western Wall. A large silvertip shark immediately greeted us. When it departed we drifted in a blaze of colour along one of the best soft coral walls anywhere, a school of small barracuda following us all the way back to the mooring. I toasted Neptune for that one!

Next we were back at the Cod Hole for a couple of dives and then to Challenger Bay for the night dive. Lighthouse Bommie does not boast spectacular corals but is a creature hot spot. In June and July Minke whales hang out here, but all year there is a resident green turtle, olive sea snakes and super-schools of yellow snapper. I was after the sea snakes. Leigh had met them before and was aware of their extremely venomous bite, but also knew they were often very cooperative. Unlike potato cod, olive sea snakes, if handled correctly, love to be made a fuss of, and photographed. That is my opinion (and what I told my model), but I am not recommending you try this. We dropped to the bottom and immediately found a snake. I gave it a gentle caress, and, though it could have swum away, it just stayed for more cuddles. It is important that divers never grip a snake, especially if the snake is about to head for the surface to breathe. We just guide them and never restrict their movement.

I had not made six dives in a day for a few years, but I am very pleased I made the night dive at Pixie Reef. A school of tiny baitfish had gathered under the deck lights. This was magic! The fishes were flashing and surging while giant trevally crashed through them. I loved the confusion and action. We were only a few metres from the back of the boat and I looped and rolled with the fishes pretending I was one of them – you are never too old to have a happy childhood.

Suddenly it was the last diving day of the trip. Steve’s Bommie with its schooling trevally and snappers (and stonefish and leaf scorpionfish) was as wonderful as ever.

The fine dining, great diving, beautiful live bountiful reefs and witty companions were all hard to farewell. Also, unlike the digital divers, I still had my film to develop. There was no rush – I am sure you know that instant gratification is associated with low intelligence. Later I would relive the whole trip, and celebrate again.

Bob Halstead dived with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions aboard Spoilsport

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