The Far Northern section is one of the last pristine areas of the Great Barrier Reef. With hundreds of reefs, the area is yet to be fully explored.
However, we already know just how fantastic the scuba diving, snorkeling, underwater photography and fascinating marine life already is. The clear water just emphasizes enormous biodiversity of the sea creatures present and ensures that everybody has the chance to produce beautiful underwater photo galleries.
The Far Northern Reefs begin their way down the coast just out from the beaches of Thursday Island off Cape York. They are unbelievable in their clarity of water, the reefs and coral heads are massive in structure, with huge undercuts and walls, myriads of diverse marine life and more than enough current to keep the heart pounding. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Last Frontier on the Great Barrier Reef
Starting east of the tip of Cape York, the reefs in this section run to the northern end of the Ribbon Reefs, where most regular dive trips usually end. In recent years, however, charter boat operators have explored further north, and have discovered some of the most spectacular and remote dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef.
Coral sand cays that appear out of the deep blue depths. The beginnings of another island; another landfall for sea birds to roost and form breeding colonies. Yet all around is very deep water and to a diver that means walls and drop offs and fish action beyond the ordinary. There is just so much to explore and so little time. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Far Northern reefs are famous for their fantastic wall dives, pinnacles alive with fish and plenty of share action. Reef sharks make an appearance on every dive, and turtles, stingrays, groper and manta rays are regularly seen, as well as the occasional marlin. To cut down on travelling time, charter boats run trips out of Lockhart River, a small town 500 km north of Cairns. Passengers are flown in, and from there the reefs are no more than a few hours' run.
A yellow phase Trumpetfish Aulostomus chinensis using a Diagonal-banded Sweetlips Plectorhinchus lineatus as an ambush host to hunt small plankton – feeding damsels hovering overhead. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Many excellent dive sites have been found around Pandora Cay, particularly, the coral gardens on the inner side of the reef, and the wonderful wall dives on its outer eastern side. The northern tip of Tijou Reef commonly known as Shark City. Silvertip sharks, grey reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks are common here and will come in close to check out divers. Masses of pelagic and reef fish gather along the steep wall which is covered with an incredible variety of colourful corals and invertebrates.
Vast colonies of Cabbage Corals Turbinarea sp. can be seen at some locations. Their distinctive shape and colour make them excellent subjects for photographers. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Steep, dramatic walls occur around Bligh Reef, constantly swept by currents and packed with luxuriant coral growth. The currents are a rich source of planktonic food for resident bait fish and reef invertebrates, which are themselves food for the many species of larger fish also found congregating in these currents. Typical are parrotfish, trevally, surgeonfish, barracuda, batfish, groper and the giant Maori wrasse.
Southern Small Detached Reef
Gorgonian sea fans bedek the walls and overhangs. In the relative shallow areas they may grow to over 2 metres in size. Down deep on the ridges at 40 to 50 metres they are like gigantic gardens, arcing out into the currents. They fade away into the shadowy the depths as far as the eye can see. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Divers will see turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays, pelagic fish and occasional manta rays which cruise the walls encircling Southern Small Detached Reef. These walls which drop to beyond 100 m, are festooned with a spectacular array of corals, large gorgonians, long sea whips, spiky soft coral trees and sponges, which provide shelter for hosts of multicoloured reef fish. All make for great photos.
Feather stars like this Comanthina nobilis festoon the tops of the corals, feeding on the curent – borne plankton. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Mantis is a long reef with many fine dive sites. Rainbow Wall is one of the most beautiful wall dives in the area, which attracts an excellent variety of pelagic fish and reef sharks. Martin's Mecca is a pinnacle in 25 m that teems with fish life. North Wall is another brilliant wall dive that is usually done as a drift dive. The wall is packed with coral and other reef invertebrates, and manta rays feed in the current, sometimes close to the divers.
Parrotfish flit everywhere, feeding on the algae scraped from live and dead corals. This male Bicolor Parrotfish Cetoscarus bicolor was just one of the hundreds of parrotfish observed on any single dive. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
This reef has many incredible wall dives along the outside of the reef, and dozens of large pinnacles covered in marine life throughout the lagoon. The most unique site at Wishbone Reef is the split at the Cathedral Wall. This site is very impressive at midday as beams of light filter through the split and light up the cave walls. Nearby is Mobula Wall, a wall dive where schools of mobula rays are often seen. The mobula ray is similar to a manta ray although smaller and usually seen swimming in formation.
Great Detached Reef
Vast schools of Big – eye Trevally Caranx sexfasciatus patrol the drop offs and walls seeking schools of baitfish and at the same time staying one step ahead of the sharks. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
More breathtaking walls and huge pelagic fish can be found off Great Detached Reef. Some of the best sites include Manta Wall, a location where manta rays gather, and Camel Back where an astonishing assortment of fish are found on two large pinnacles. At Shark City, the crew of Auriga Bay II sets out baits which attract dozens of reef whitetip and grey reef sharks, and their larger cousins, the reef silvertips. The sharks come in quite close during the feed, allowing all the action to be photographed.
During nesting season Raine island supports thousands of Brown Boobies (Sula leucogaster) that gather to breed and raise their single chicks. The female actually lays and hatches two chicks, but the first born steadily starves the younger one and eventually kicks it out of the nest. The mother does not recognise what is going on and still responds only to the dominant chick. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
One of the best places in the world to see turtles is Raine Island during the nesting season. Thousands nest on the island during the night and can be seen in the water during the on every dive. They can be found resting in the coral gardens or swimming along the nearby drop-off, but divers should also keep an eye out for tiger sharks as they also frequent the area feeding on the turtles.
Besides the many thousands of turtles which arrive each year to breed on Raine Island there a few unwanted guests that also turn up for dinner. large numbers of Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) advance on the area during turtle breeding season and these monster fish make short work of any turtles that are unlucky enough to get caught running the gauntlet. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in living taxonomy and marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Lobsters, Crayfish, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, examples of which are found on the Far Northern Reefs.
( copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel marsh)