Lady Elliot Island is at the southern-most end of the Great Barrier Reef, with clear water and an impressive array of marine life, making it perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling and underwater photography.
Manta rays are the most famous residents of the area, as dozens can be seen feeding around the island throughout the year.
An Unforgettable Coral Cay
When first visited in the early 1980s, accommodation on Lady Elliot Island was tent style, meals were taken under the trees, and there were few facilities. Today the resort on the island boasts excellent facilities, but in all this time one thing that hasn't changed, the diving is still spectacular.
Large schools of Hussars Lutjanus adetii can often be seen around the deeper reefs. (photo: Neville Coleman)
After boarding a flight in Bundaberg, it is a quick 30 minutes to Lady Elliot Island. That first view of the island is unforgettable. Peering from the window you can see a 42-hectare coral cay, bisected by a grassy runway, surrounded by many patches of reef. Lady Elliot Island is at the southern-most end of the Great Barrier Reef, and being close to the continental shelf, is blessed with clear water and an impressive array of marine life. Manta rays are the most famous residents of the area, as dozens can be seen feeding around the island throughout the year.
On the swim back from the Lighthouse Bommie a diver can be surrounded by huge schools of trevally streaming past. Green Turtles Chelonia mydas are a common sight and very used to having divers around. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The dive shop on the island conducts three trips daily. Over 20 sites are regularly dived, both from the shore and by boat. Currents are common around the island, so most dives are done as drift dives. The sites on the western side of the reef are accessible from the shore and numerous pinnacles offer the best diving. The rest of the reef is bordered by an exciting drop-off.
Huge Spiny Squirrelfish Sargocentron spiniferum can be seen beneath ledges and in caves where they hide out during the day. Similar to all squirrefish they have a venomous spine on the lower gill cover. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Lady Elliot Island offers two types of accommodation, cabins or large safari tents, and package deals on meals, accommodation and diving. Facilities at the resort include a marine education centre, bar, pool, gift shop and a large dining room complex. As well, guests can relax on the beach, or observe and photograph the many thousands of sea birds that nest on the island.
At the fishpond in the lagoon there is always a great welcoming commitee of sargents and drummers which give great opportunities for beginner snorkelers and new underwater photographers to try out their skills.(photo: Neville Coleman)
A magic day and a magic dive, the Blowhole never ceases to amaze, with visuals and stacks of new records and species being found in its hidden crevasses. Its a really brilliant dive.( photo: Neville Coleman)
This large tube-like cave, 6 m in diameter, cuts into the reef wall and exists on the top of the reef. Inside live many fish species, including squirrelfish, lionfish, bannerfish, rock cod, coral trout, sweetlips, butterflyfish and many thousands of baitfish. The cave walls are lined with tubastrea corals and small soft corals. Look closely and you may find shrimp, crabs and cowries. The Blow Hole is also a popular hangout for wobbegongs, blotched stingrays, old turtles and the occasional tawny nurse shark.
I was blown away when I found my first ever Leafy Scorpionfish Taenianotus triacanthus ( pink/purple version) at 25 metres over the edge of the outer reef at Lady Elliot Island. I had no idea at the time that this fish came that far south. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Gropers Grovel is off the northern end of the island. Here numerous caves and ledges are found along the reef wall. Coral growth is extremely prolific, sea whips, gorgonians, sponges, ascidians, soft corals and tubastrea corals cover the reef. Pelagic fish are everywhere, barracuda, trevally, rainbow runners and fusiliers. A giant Queensland groper is occasionally seen in the area. Regulars are reef sharks, eagle rays, turtles and silvertip sharks that zoom in to check out divers and disappear just as quickly.
At nightime, Faulkners Coral Tubastraea faulkneri comes out to feed. They are a fantastic sight and can even be seen in the shallow water caves and under the ledges in the reefs along the sheltered side of the island, just by snorkeling down with a torch. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The anchor at the Anchor Bommie is always worth a check. I once found a Lacy Scorpionfish Rhinopias aphanes on it. (photo: Neville Coleman)
This towering coral head, which stands 7 m tall in 20 m of water, is cut by many small caves where baitfish, squirrelfish and wobbegongs hide. Small reef fish dart in and out of the corals along the sides and top of the bommie, while schools of barracuda and trevally circle the structure. Manta rays often visit, and will sometimes glide around the bommie, seeming to check out the humans. Divers will also see turtles, sea snakes, gropers, reef sharks, stingrays, leopard sharks, eagle rays and shovelnose rays. Colonies of garden eels can be found on the sand at the base of the bommie.
Lady Elliot Island is well known for its many Manta Rays Manta brevirostris. Although they can be found at various localities they are more frequently seen at the Lighthouse Bommies. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Lighthouse Bommie, a group of small coral heads in 15 m, is definitely the best place to enjoy the company of manta rays. Manta rays constantly cruise the area, sometimes playing follow the leader, other times feeding on plankton. They also come in to be cleaned by the resident cleaner wrasse. Around the Lighthouse Bommies you are likely to see leopard sharks, stingrays, sea snakes, moray eels, reef sharks, mackerel, trevally, gropers, Maori wrasse, shovelnose rays, reef fish, invertebrates and turtles, and all this is accessible from the shore.
Not always easy to find, Red – stripe Basslets Pseudanthias fasciatus live in small schools along the edges of the 20 metre line drop off on the outer reef at the Blow Hole and the Tubes dive sites.(male) (photo: Neville Coleman)
Many other excellent shore dives are located on the western side of the island, including the Outer Bommies, Three Pyramids and Maori Wrasse Bommie where manta rays and other marine life can be seen. The Shark Pools are best snorkelled during summer, as reef sharks gather here to hunt along the reef flats. Dozens of whitetips, blacktips and grey reef sharks congregate in 3-8 m of water. Other popular boat diving sites include Sunset Drift, Southern Drift, Hiro's Cave, The Canyons and Turtle Station. At every site, divers will see turtles, sharks, schools of fish and manta rays.
When I first photographed Watanabe's Angelfish Genicanthus watanabei (male) off the outer reef adjacent to the northern end of the runway, it was a new record for the island. Since then we have found many new records and there are many more still to find. (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 Lady Elliot Island.
( copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)