The Whitsunday Islands are beautiful continental islands lying off the coast, east of Proserpine. Over 150 islands are scattered throughout the region and most can only be explored by those prepared to sail these waters.
Diving around the Whitsunday Islands can be excellent. The reefs are rich in marine life; however, the visibility can be poor on occasion.
For consistently clear water, the local charter boats run day trips to the main reef, which is about two hours from the islands.
Large schools of Scissortail Sargents Abudefduf sexfasciatus abound in the water column feeding on the abundant plankton brought through by the currents. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Excellent Outer Barrier Diving and World-Class Resorts
The Whitsunday Islands are beautiful continental islands lying off the coast, east of Proserpine. Over 150 islands are scattered throughout the region and most can only be explored by those prepared to sail these waters. However, six of the islands (South Molle, Long, Hayman, Hamilton, Daydream and Brampton) have world-class resorts on them that offer the visitor a range of water sport activities, including diving.
For the more adventurous, camping is possible. Divers have the choice of staying at one of the island resorts or on the mainland, as a number of dive shops and charter boats are based on the islands as well as around Airlie Beach and Mackay.
While the water around the Continental islands may not be as clear as the outer barrier, there are sufficient numbers of fish and invertebrate species to keep any diver or underwater photographer busy for many years. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Diving around the Whitsunday Islands can be excellent. The reefs are rich in marine life; however, the visibility can be poor on occasion. For consistently clear water, the local charter boats run day trips to the main reef, which is about two hours from the islands.
The shallow reefs of stony corals at the outer barrier are mostly made up of Staghorns Acropora spp. All the resort islands have trips to the outer barrier on a regular basis.(photo: Neville Coleman)
There are a number of pretty rocky reefs around Hayman Island in depths of 6-16 m. These reefs have a good coverage of hard and soft corals and in places there are gorgonians, black corals and sea whips. The variety of reef fish and invertebrate life is particularly impressive. Molluscs, nudibranchs, flatworms, clams, gobies, blennies, damsels, lionfish, scorpionfish, butterflyfish, tubeworms, sea stars and feather stars are all common.
Certainly, the Whitsunday Islands support a large number of nudibranch species. There have been far more species recorded around the Continental islands than at the outer barrier. The Ocellate Phyllidia Phyllidia ocellata is observed out in the open during the day and feeds on sponges. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Hook Island has the best marine life and range of dive sites of any island in the Whitsunday Group. The Pinnacles, off the north-eastern corner of the island, are a number of large coral heads. They sit in 18 m of water and attract numerous reef and pelagic fish. Nearby, The Woodpile is a rocky wall covered in exceptional coral growth to 30 m. On a close inspection of the wall you will find many small tropical fish and invertebrate species, so don't forget your macro lens for this dive. Manta Ray Bay has a good coverage of hard and soft corals. In only 15 m of water lives abundant marine life and even manta rays over the winter months.
Giant Clams Tridacna gigas can be seen in shallow water. These monster bivalve shells are filter feeders pumping water through their intake siphons to extract plankton for food and oxygen for breathing. They are also able to extract percentages of zooxanthellae from their own tissues as food. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Fairey Reef has a number of dive sites featuring pinnacles, coral gardens and walls, mostly between 15 to 30 m. Marine life around Fairey Reef includes reef sharks, turtles, parrotfish, angelfish, batfish, coral trout, sweetlips, stingrays, moray eels and giant clams.
(photo: Neville Coleman)
At the southern end of Bait Reef is a spectacular wall dive known as Manta Ray Drop-off. As on many dive sites in the area, manta rays are found cruising the wall in winter, but at any time of the year ref sharks and pelagics are common. The wall, which drops to 36 m, is covered with gorgonians, soft coral trees, sponges and sea whips. The Stepping Stones are made up of a series of large pinnacles with many caves and ledges in between, lined with a wonderful assortment of invertebrates. The Stepping Stones are a good place to see gropers, sweetlips, coral trout, lionfish, moray eels, anemonefish, stingrays and the occasional manta ray.
Elizabeth Chromodoris Chromodoris elizabethina is found all along the Great Barrier Reef where it inhabits caves and beneath ledges and is also found in the open during the day feeding on sponges. It grows to 50mm. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Many of the local charter boats regularly visit Hardy Reef as it has a well-balanced range of dive sites for any level of experience. There are shallow areas with hard and soft coral, alive with reef fish, typically: butterflyfish, wrasse, angelfish, damsels, pufferfish, triggerfish, filefish, boxfish, pipefish, gobbies, lionfish and anemonefish. Nearby are drop-offs to 30 m with sea whips, black coral trees, sponges, ascidians and soft corals.
A common inshore and offshore species, Tall – fin Batfish Platax tiera are almost always seen in small or large shools. They are quite common around dive sites and pontoons as they sometimes get fed. These fish are very approachable and make good photographic subjects. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Along these drop-offs are turtles, reef sharks, gropers and the occasional school of trevally and barracuda. Hardy Reef is the site of the Fantasea Reef World pontoon, where fish are fed regularly. Trevally, coral trout, snapper, Maori wrasse and one huge Queensland groper about 2 m long usually congregate at the pontoon for a free feed.
Not quite a giant, a very tame young Flowery Cod Epinephelus fuscoguttatus is quite happy to rest on a divers hand as if it was the floor of the reef. This species grows to 90 cm and occurs throughout the Asia/Indo – Pacific regions. (photo: Neville Coleman)
Line Reef, Sinker Reef, Hook Reef, Black Reef and several others in the area are also often dived. A couple of boats now offer live-aboard trips to the refs off the Whitsundays and further afield.
A young Painted Rock Lobster Panulirus versicolor peers out of its shallow ledge, curious, but ready to make a very fast exit if danger threatens. (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 the Whitsunday Islands.
(copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel marsh)