The most northerly dive resort in Queensland, Lizard Island has a fringing coral reef and a sheltered lagoon which has excellent diving and snorkelling areas in shallow waters suitable for underwater photography.
Within its complex environs of reefs, including Palfrey Island and South Island is some of the most exciting continental island diving in northern Australia.
Accessed from Lizard Island and from Port Douglas and Cairns, the Cod Hole is world famous for its large, semi tame Potato Cod ( Epinephelus tuka) which certainly make a dive very exciting indeed. However, no matter how tame any wild animal may seen they are all capable of dealing out some nasty lessons if we do not respect their ways. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Continental Island Diving Supreme
The most northerly dive resort in Queensland, Lizard Island is accessable by air from Cairns and Cooktown, or by charter boat. One of the largest mainland islands on the Cape York Peninsula, it has a fringing coral reef and a sheltered lagoon which has excellent diving and snorkelling.
North Reef has amazing gardens of sea whips and gorgonian sea fans. Hidden amongst the branches are numerous egg and spindle cowries. This image of a Compressed Spindle Cowry Phenacovolva coarctata was (in 1976) my very first time to find the species. The mantle palps are exactly the same as the host gorgonian, even down to having 8 tentacles on them. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Within its complex environs of reefs, including PalfreyIsland and South Island is some of the most exciting continental island diving in northern Australia. A boat is required to get to the best places and these include Mrs Watson’s Beach ( offshore), Granite Head, Mermaid Cove, North Point, South Island drop off and the Bird Island drop off.
There are some huge giant clams at the boat anchorage and nearby North Direction Island, Eagle Island and Linnet Reef have good diving with hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates, gardens of sea whips with hectacres of huge black coral trees and blazing fields of red and orange spikey soft corals.
Giant Clams Tridacna gigas inhabit the lagoon and can been seen by diving or snorkeling. Sometimes they are found in groups. they are the largest bivalve in the world, growing to over 1 metre. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Lizard Island Research Station at Corner beach is owned and operated by the Australian Museum.
The Lizard Island Resort has snorkelling and scuba diving as part of its many services.
Excellent Dive Sites and an Upmarket Resort
Lizard Island Resort, which caters for a maximum of 64 guests, is one of the most upmarket, exclusive resorts on the Reef. Although basic in design, it is a real getaway and many famous visitors have enjoyed its seclusion. The resort shares the island with a marine research station which is run by the Australian Museum.
Inhabiting coral clumps in the lagoon, Splendid Mandarinfish Pterosynchiropus splenditus are generally active during early mornings and at dusk. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Located 240 km north of Cairns, Lizard Island is serviced regularly by a one-hour flight. Many guests come to dive although others prefer to fish, water ski, wind-surf, play golf and tennis and enjoy nature walks along the many isolated beaches. The dive shop on the island conducts courses and runs daily boat trips to the many excellent dive sites in the area such as Cobia Hole which are well worth a dive, but trips out to the Ribbon Reefs to famous sites such as Dynamite Pass and Cod Hole, are not to be missed.
On deeper water slopes there are large clumps of Red Whip Gorgonians. In the foreground a solitary Wide- banded Cuttlefish Sepia latimanus endeavors to blend into the reef by hiding beneath a coral ledge. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
If you are after a full-on dive holiday, book a live-aboard trip to the Ribbon Reefs, but if you want a diving holiday mixed with other activities, then Lizard Island is your perfect destination.
Just off the resort in 18 m of water is a rocky reef packed with marine life, including batfish, barracuda, trevally, estuary cod, rabbitfish, lionfish, coral cod and baitfish. Surveying the sand bottom around the reef, divers will find stingrays, goatfish and a number of large cobia.
This Giant Moray Eel Gymnothorax javanicus had been hand fed fish without incident for many years at the Cod Hole and was thought to be amiable and very tame. However, the years mean’t nothing when for some reason it attached a girl in a white tee shirt ( the same colour of the bag the fish food was fed to the eel by dive guides) and almost ripped her arm off at the shoulder, requiring amputation of the limb.
Wild is wild! We should never assume we understand potentially dangerous animals based on past behaviour. Aways beware when in the presense of large marine creatures. A mistake on their behalf, or a mistake on our behalf assumes the same results. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Soft Coral Gardens
The western side of Lizard Island has many shallow fringing reefs in the less than 10 m of water. The Soft Coral Gardens is a patchy reef with an amazing amount of coral growth and fish life. Reef inhabitants include sweetlips, parrotfish, damsels, butterflyfish, coral trout, rock cod, scorpionfish, lionfish and the occasional groper. The profusion of sea stars, brittle stars, flatworms, nudibranchs, clams, octopi, cuttlefish and crustaceans will delight the macrophotographer.
Discovering a brand new species is exciting at any time. I discovered this different looking Blue – ringed Octopus Hapalochaena sp. at 18 metres off Mrs. Watsons Beach in 1976 and the images I took of its unusual behaviour ( for a blue-ring) caused the Smithsonian Institute ( Clyde Roper USA) to send out an entire expedition to Lizard Island in search of another. It took years to establish that it was an entirely new species and that my original observations and images were correct. It is still awaiting description.
However, it has been given a Common Name as the Great Barrier Reef Blue - ringed Octopus in CEPHALOPODS- A WORLD GUIDE by Mark Norman. Page, 225 ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Snake Shelf is a pinnacle in 18 m, teeming with fish life. Schools of batfish, trevally, surgeonfish, barracuda and fusiliers are regular visitors. Eagle rays patrol the top of the reef, and turtles are sometimes found on the sandy bottom. Sea snakes are common; divers will see dozens poking around the reef.
Diving off Mrs. Watson’s Beach in 1976 was extremely productive. At 18 metres on the sand there was a wealth of creatures. Many like this Mamillate Pleurobranch Pleurobranchus mamillatus were fantastic to see for the first time BUT, to find that it was inhabited by two Imperial Shrimps ( Periclimenes imperator) a new record at the time, was icing on the cake. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The best way to explore Dynamite Pass, located in a channel between the Ribbon Reefs, is an action-packed drift dive. The bottom (35 m) and walls of the channel are overgrown with gorgonians, sea whips and black coral trees. Numerous fish, including groper, barracuda, trevally, mackerel and tuna gather to feed in the current. Drifting along the wall, divers will be joined by reef sharks, eagle rays and perhaps a manta ray.
Lined Surgeonfish Acanthurus lineatus are very common on the shallow water reefs throughout the area. In the early years with my old Rollei Marine I did not have much success trying to photograph them with the twin 80mm lenses. However, years later when I had modernized my gear and used a SLR camera with 105 Macro lens everything changed, and they were not so difficult at all. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
At the northern end of Ribbon Reef No 10 is a patch of reef at 10-25 m that is world-famous for its fat fishy residents. The Cod Hole would be a great dive even without the potato cod. The reef is interesting to explore and populated by a diverse assortment of reef fish and invertebrates. Pelagic fish constantly sweep past the reef; barracuda, trevally and mackerel are all frequent visitors. Reef residents such as moray eels, blue-spotted stingrays, estuary cod, sweetlips, sea bass, giant Maori wrasse and whitetip reef sharks shelter in the caves and under overhangs.
Due to the heavy pressure of professional scuba spearfishing along the Great Barrier Reef several decades ago there were very few Giant Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) seen out in the open.
With the influence of Marine Parks and protected areas these fantastic fish have made a comeback and in the meantime eco – tourism has developed. It has been estimated that these giant fish could be worth up to $250,000 each to the Dive Tourism industry for they are the stars of every major dive site along the reef. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Of course, the potato cod are the main attraction and do they put on a show! Up to 14 have been seen at once, but six are more usual. As soon as divers hit the water, the cod crowd around expecting food, they even push and shove each other for the best position. The cod are very aggressive when being fed, and have been known to bite hands and swallow dive gloves. Even without food being produced, the cod are approachable and can be easily photographed, reacting with each other and the divers.
With the advent of marine bioprospecting and pharmacology, sponges have risen from obscurity to where they are at the forefront of taxonomic efforts and recording species in search of new compounds and anti – cancer and disease resistant drugs.
Some Museums and Scientific Institutes have received huge grants to pursue this new science. Its a great pity that other branches of marine science have not received similar grants from the Government just to pursue knowledge. However, it seems that science and advancing knowledge is keyed to money and the opportunity of making profits the only driving force? ( 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, all found in the waters around Lizard Island.
(copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)