The Sunshine Coast, only 100 km north of Brisbane has some of the best coastal diving in Queensland with an array of fabulous marine life.
The area is only just being explored underwater, and scuba divers and underwater photographers are finding new species records and even undescribed species on a regular basis.
On a good day there are areas along the shoreline in Noosa National Park that has rock pools suitable for snorkeling and snorkeling snapshots.
The HMAS Brisbane has now been down for 3 years and shows a remarkable amount of marine growth. The wreck is also home to many fish and is certainly one of the most popular dive sites for Brisbane and Sunshine Coast divers. (photo: Nigel Marsh)
Brilliant Adventure Diving, with Stacks of Species
Diving on the Sunshine Coast for the first time can be quite a surprise. Some of the local reefs are so packed with hard and soft coral you would think that a section of the Great Barrier Reef had been towed south. Numerous dives are found in a relatively small area, well over a hundred have been named, and the local dive operators are finding more all the time. And finally, while fish are plentiful, it is the invertebrate life that will be long remembered.
The Sunshine Coast is really an unknown as far as the recording of its marine life is concerned. To me it is one of the richest areas of known and unknown species yet to be investigated along the Queensland coast. I have discovered new records and new species on every dive. The Intermediate Fire Urchin Asthenosoma intermedium was a new record when it was found some years ago. (photo: Neville Coleman)
On every dive you will see many species of crustaceans, echinoderms and especially molluscs. Anyone with a love of nudibranchs will find dozens of species in large numbers. Some that are rare elsewhere are common here, as well as several unnamed species.
The patch reefs and reef slopes have vast colonies of Spikey Soft Corals Dendronephthya sp. Every colony has its own commensals, with crabs, shrimps, squat lobsters, egg cowries, creeping ctenophores and worms being recorded. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The Sunshine Coast, only 100 km north of Brisbane, is a popular holiday area stretching from Noosa in the north to Caloundra in the south. Many resorts and hotels line the beaches, where people come to swim, surf, relax or enjoy the night clubs.
A new undescribed species of Sea Star Ophidiaster sp. which I originally discovered at Heron Island in 1974 is quite common on the Sunshine Coast reefs. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Running parallel to the coast are a number of coral reefs packed with a good variety of species of hard and soft coral. Most of these reefs are only 10 minutes from shore and are regularly visited by the dive operators in the area, who run double dive boat trips. All the dive shops are centred around Noosa and Mooloolaba, as both have accessible ports and the best dive sites on their doorsteps. Some also run trips a little further north to a popular small outcrop known as Wolf Rock.
Gary Cobb has recorded over 400 species of nudibranchs from the shoreline and reefs on the Sunshine Coast. Emmas Hypselodoris Hypselodoris emma is found there on occasions. (photo: Neville Coleman)
For dramatic diving Wolf Rock is hard to beat. The rock drops straight into 25 m of water, and then slopes to 35 m and beyond. Coral growth on the rock can be brilliant. Some areas are covered with sea whips, gorgonians and black coral trees. Small reef fish are prolific, but almost forgotten when divers catch sight of the schools of barracuda, big eye trevally, fusiliers, kingfish, mackerel and bonito that gather around the rock. The occasional bronze whaler can be seen charging through the schools and may hang around to 'buzz' a diver. Turtles, manta rays, wobbegongs, stingrays, eagle rays and shovelnose rays are also regulars at Wolf Rock.
During the months of summer some areas are visited by Leopard Sharks Stegasoma fasciatum which come into shallow water to breed. (photo: Nigel Marsh)
One of the smaller reefs in the area, Jew Shoal is also one of the fishiest. The reef lies in 12-20 m of water and the rocky structure contains many caves, gutters and pinnacles with thick growths of hard and soft corals, sponges, ascidians, anemones and black coral trees.
Only the internal skeletons of Black Corals are black. The living outer skin of Black Corals may be yellow, green, lemon, orange or brown. White Black Coral Antipathes sp. is found at various depths along the east coast of Australia and is common on the Sunshine Coast reefs.(photo: Neville Coleman)
Small reef fish and invertebrates, including anemonefish, lionfish, moray eels, angelfish, bullseyes, wrasse, molluscs, sea stars, brittle stars, rock lobsters and plenty of nudibranchs, are common. Pelagic fish and large reef fish are always found on the shoal, and during a good dive you will see batfish, coral trout, trevally, gropers, sweetlips, mackerel, kingfish and surgeonfish, as well as turtles, stingrays and wobbegongs. Each summer leopard sharks appear and are usually found resting in the sandy gutters.
The Vermillion Star Pentagonaster dubeni is one of Australias most vibrant Sea Stars. Its colour can vary from bright red, to orange. This Sunshine Coast orange form is at the limit of its tropical range. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Inner and Outer Gneerings
Located just off Mooloolaba, the Gneering Reefs cover a wide area in depths from 10-25 m. Dozens of dive sites, found on both the inner and outer reefs, are packed with a dense covering of hard and soft corals. The terrain is extremely interesting to explore, as many gutters, caves and pinnacles are found throughout the reef area. The colours are exquisite, orange and red gorgonians, pink soft corals and white, bushy black coral trees, a photographer's field day. Anemones and their resident anemonefish are numerous, as are nudibranchs, with dozens of different species found on every dive. Also common are rock lobsters, sea urchins, sea stars and numerous species of reef fish. Pelagic fish are more plentiful on the Outer Gneerings, but turtles, stingrays and wobbegongs can be seen almost anywhere.
Bristling with Spiky Soft Corals the superstructure of the HMAS Brisbane has been settled by many sessile species since it was scuttled in July 2005. (photo: Nigel Marsh)
Other Dive Sites
There are many other dive sites in the area that are worth mentioning, including Halls Reef, North Reef, Sunshine Reef (off Noosa), Coolum Reef, Mudjimba Island and Murphy's Reef (off Mooloolaba). All have extensive coral gardens and an abundance of reef fish, invertebrates and other marine life. Big seas are the only restriction on diving the Sunshine Coast, as only Mudjimba Island offers any protection when the weather is rough.
Endemic to the Sunshine Coast and with a totally unique colour pattern, the Wasp Glossodoris Glossodoris vespa was only described in 1990.
(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, Mangroves, 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 the Sunshine Coast.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)