Heron Island has been a marine park for so long that the marine life is both extensive and very tame.
Divers are able to approach wildlife at close quarters at all the many dive sites making excellent subjects for underwater photographers.
Heron Island can be reached easily by helicopter, ferry or charter boat from Gladstone.
A true coral cay, the island's exquisite beaches are white coral sand, where hundreds of green and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs during the summer months.
Due to its abundance of tame fish, the Heron Island Bommie has been world famous for over 35 years. As the site of the first Dive resort on the Great Barrier Reef it has, over the years, been a special place for underwater photographers and videographers. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The First Dive Resort on the Great Barrier Reef
Residing among the magnificent cays and reefs of the Capricorn Group, Heron Island can be reached easily by helicopter, ferry or charter boat from Gladstone. A true coral cay, the island's exquisite beaches are white coral sand, where hundreds of green and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs during the summer months. The marine life on the surrounding reefs is some of the most interesting in the area and due to the fact that it has been a marine park for so long, the marine life are used to divers and very tame.
Wistari Reef lagoon across the channel from Heron Island, is a vast complex of interconnected reefs and bommies. From the air it is a magnificent site and its wide expanse gives some idea of the huge area these reefs cover. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Educational and eco – tour Reefwalks are very popular at Heron Island with rangers escorting groups of people out to the edge of the reef on low tides, giving them an insight into the various workings of the reef and explaining about the creatures encountered on the reeflats. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The island supports a marine research station, run by the University of Queensland and a resort which, until 1932, was a turtle soup factory. Since that time the resort has grown and now offers a range of accommodation and excellent facilities, including a pool, bar, dining area, games room and shops. Package deals are available which include diving, accommodation and meals. Free diving is offered sometimes in the off season. The dive shop organises trips to the many excellent dive sites around Heron and to nearby islands and reefs.
Island walks are also very popular and the tracks through the Pandanus palms give visitors a look at the thousands of Noddy terns which roost in the trees. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Heron Island Bommies
Located at depths from 8-17 m, the famous Heron Island Bommies (pinnacles) might be devoid of dramatic coral growth, but compensate for this by supporting a profusion of fish and other marine life. On a typical dive it is not uncommon to see batfish, barracuda, tuskfish, estuary cod, lionfish, trevally, angelfish, sweetlips, fusiliers, baitfish, rainbow runners, butterflyfish, rock cod, parrotfish and surgeonfish as well as a host of sharks, rays and reptiles. Moray eels, stingrays, tasselled wobbegongs, eagle rays and manta rays are regularly seen around the bommies. Turtles are especially common all around Heron Island during the summer months.
Dive boats leave on morning and afternoon dives to the many sites around the reef. Although a dive program is posted it always depends on the weather and state of the currents as to where the dive will be. (photo: Neville Coleman)
This is a good area for macro-photographers as the gutters and reef walls are covered with a vast array of sea stars, feather stars, nudibranchs, flatworms, shrimp, crabs, brittle stars and other small reef creatures. A maximum depth of 16 m gives divers plenty of time to explore the reef. Hard coral growth is moderate, but there are plenty of small gorgonians and soft corals. Resident reef fish include angelfish, butterflyfish, blennies, goatfish, sweetlips, lionfish, damsels, filefish, triggerfish, hawkfish and rock cods.
The Gorgonian Sea Fans Melathaea sp. at the Gorgonia Hole often have beautiful Spindle Cowries Phenacovolva sp. amongst their branches. These small molluscs are very well camouflaged and live out their entire lives on the Sea Fan, laying their eggs on browsed fronds. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Divers exploring the Blue Pools will find a great selection of fish in depths from 5-20 m. Semicircle angelfish are common and very friendly (great fish portraits) and other resident fish include gropers, coral trout, batfish, lionfish, wrasse, parrotfish, surgeonfish and a variety of butterflyfish. Invertebrate life around the corals is impressive, and a number of nudibranch and flatworm species are common. Here the reef forms a bowl shape, like a protected swimming pool, and offers an easy, relaxing dive.
Seen at many of the dive sites, resident Blue Angelfish Pomacanthus semicirculatus often occur in pairs. Angelfish can easily be identified from Butterfly and Coralfishes by the prominent spine on the gill cover.(photo: Neville Coleman)
This coral wall is the best place to see manta rays at Heron Island. They feed just off the point and can be seen swimming past with their mouths open to collect plankton. When a slight current is running, pelagic fish and reef sharks also gather here, making it one of the best dive sites at Heron Island.
Snorkelers have the opportunity to swim at close quarters with hundreds of fish and observe small and large turtles. There are of course more turtles around during the breeding season in Summer. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The Coral Gardens is made up of a sloping reef of staghorn and other hard corals that drops into 20 m of water. Fish life is very prolific in this area and divers will regularly see lionfish, moray eels, flutemouths, stingrays, coral trout, trevally, barracuda, anemonefish, surgeonfish, tuskfish and gropers. This is also a good place to find turtles, reef sharks and manta rays, which cruise the channel between Heron Island and Wistari Reef.
Schools of Blue – striped Snappers Lutjanus kasmira occur along the walls and slopes, often around bommies. A strikingly coloured species it can be found across the Indo – Pacific region. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Many other good dive sites are located around Heron Island, such as the Tenements, Harry's Bommie, North Bommie and The Canyons. If you have the time, book an adventure dive to some of the other lovely cays and reefs of the Capricorn and Bunker Groups.
Recognised by its protruding blue teeth the Harlequin Tuskfish Choerodon fasciatus seems more common at Heron Island than anywhere else along the Great Barrier Reef. A very inquisitive species it often follows divers around. (photo: Neville Coleman)
A number of dive sites are popular along the drop-off on the north side of Wistari Reef. Here the reef drops to 25 m and has some of the best coral growth in the area, large soft corals, gorgonians and sea whips. A number of coral heads that rise from the sandy sea floor at the base of the wall are well worth a look, as they shelter an interesting assortment of reef fish and invertebrate life. Off the wall you will find coral trout, gropers, reef sharks, sweetlips, flutemouth, scorpionfish, turtles and the occasional school of pelagic fish.
It was on the deep water slopes of Wistari Reef that in 1974 I first discovered Coleman's Shrimp Periclimenes colemani living on top of the Intermediate Fire Urchin Asthenosoma intermedium. At the time it was one of my most exciting discoveries. (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, Rock Lobsters, 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, Marine Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Heron Island and Wistari Reef.
( copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)