Most of the Swain Reefs are small and offer great scuba diving and snorkeling along reef walls, or around dense coral gardens.
The clear water and amazing marine life give ample opportunity for underwater photography and snorkeling snapshots.
A number of the coral reefs have sheltered lagoons, which provide safe anchorages and good night diving.
Hundreds of reefs, most known only by a number, make up this system which covers an area of over 15,000 sq km.
Sea Scooters are becoming more and more popular with scuba divers and underwater scientists. They certainly take the work out of swimming , but they don't result in the riders find more species of nudibranchs. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Exceptional Diving on Hundreds of Small Reefs
Before the Coral Sea reefs became a regular live-aboard destination, the Swain Reefs were the most popular live-aboard trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Hundreds of reefs, most known only by a number, make up this system which covers an area of over 15,000 sq km.
The Swain Reefs are now mainly visited by fishermen, but dive charter boats still run regular trips if they can get the numbers. Boats based in Gladstone, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay usually explore the southern end of the reef system, but groups can set their own itineraries.
Subject to variation in colour, this specimen of Bullocks Hypselodoris Hypselodoris bullockii is typical of those seen along the Great Barrier Reef. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Most of the Swain Reefs are small and offer great diving along reef walls or around dense coral gardens. A number also have sheltered lagoons, which provide safe anchorages and good night diving.
Exceptional diving can be enjoyed right around Hixson Cay, with coral gardens in the shallows and exciting wall diving at the southern end of the reef. This wall drops beyond 60 m and is a multi-hued mass of sea whips, gorgonians and soft corals with mackerel, rainbow runners, jobfish and reef sharks.
Over the face of the reef, many of the cave walls are covered in colourful sessile invertebrates such as sponges and ascidians. These are the areas when nudibranchs are mostly found. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Photographers will be delighted with Sandshoe Reef. At 10-30 m lie extensive fields of hard coral, home to a fantastic range of invertebrates and reef fish, including sea stars, brittle stars, feather stars, cuttlefish, clams, flatworms, nudibranchs, shrimps, anemone-fish, damsels, gobies, filefish, boxfish, triggerfish and wrasse.
Some of the individual colonies of stony corals are absolutely magnificent. This colony of Duerdens Coral Pavona duerdeni is one of the most advanced formations of this species I have ever seen. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Deep gutters cut into the coral at Sinker Reef and form a fantastic maze. Lionfish, butterflyfish, anemonefish and angelfish are common, as well as gropers, sea snakes, trevally, batfish and barracuda, and all in less than 20 m of water.
Parrotfish, scorpionfish, lionfish, gropers, batfish, surgeonfish and sweetlips are but a few of the fish species found amid the coral gardens at Hook Reef. At less than 20 m divers will encounter stingrays, reef sharks, sea snakes and a multitude of invertebrate species.
This Decorated Reticulidia Reticulidia halgerda was found in a cave at 20 metres. This species is certainly not common along the Great Barrier Reef and over 40 years I have only managed to locate 3 speciemens. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Several popular dive sites are found around Horseshoe Reef, which has a large lagoon with the safest anchorage in the area. The best dive site is along the wall, which drops to 35 m on the southern side of the reef, coated with soft corals and large gorgonians. Tasselled wobbegongs, rock lobster and the occasional tawny nurse shark can be found on a number of ledges along the wall. Near the drop-off, you are likely to see pelagic fish, sea snakes, reef sharks and turtles.
A wonderful pinnacle off the southern side of Gannet Cay sits in 35 m of water. Circling this coral-encrusted structure are masses of reef and pelagic fish, including barracuda and trevally. Many invertebrate species can be found among the coral.
Drop-offs to 40 m make Snake Reef special. These walls, overgrown with coral, shelter many small invertebrates. Reef sharks, trevally, barracuda, batfish, surgeonfish and sea snakes tour the wall, searching for food.
This large Table Coral Acropora sp. was around 3 metres across and underneath its shaded protection were many species of fish and two painted Rock Lobsters. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Excellent diving can be found around Central Reef at all depths. Photographers will find many subjects Ð schools of trevally, plenty of corals and other invertebrates, reef fish and beautiful little nudibranchs.
Many coral heads rise in 20 m of water, on the southern side of Mystery Cay. Populated with a rich assortment of marine life, they are regularly visited by manta rays that come to the pinnacles to feed and be serviced by the cleaner wrasses.
Giant Thorny Oysters Spondylus varius occur throughout the Great Barrier Reef and are generally seen growing in the rear of caves, beneath ledges and on the sides of underwater cayons.(photo: Neville Coleman)
There are many ledges and gutters on the northern side of Lavers Cay that are home to an interesting variety of marine life. Along these gutters divers will see trevally, batfish, sea snakes, rock lobster, reef sharks and a number of huge resident Queensland gropers, almost two metres in length.
The Pompey Reefs are a continuation of the northern end of the Swain Reefs. This area offers exciting wall dives and healthy populations of fish and corals, but is rarely dived. New Blue Hole is 100 m in diameter. Its sheer walls, lined with small corals, drop straight down into 90 m of water. A mixture of reef and pelagic fish enters the hole over the reef top.
The grey phaze of the Orange – blotch Surgeonfish Acanthurus olivaceus is particularly attractive. This species inhabits dead reef and rubble areas where it feeds on algae scraped from the dead coral. (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 Swain Reefs.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)