Discover these 10 little-known Queensland reefs
Great Barrier Reef expert nominates his favourite dive sites.
Daydream Island Master Reef Guide Johnny Gaskell has visited more than 200 reef sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park over the past two years.
After his latest expeditions in 2020, he has revealed his top 10 reefs on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.
The list is not filled with internationally renowned reef sites, but rather lesser-known reefs for those eager to explore beyond the popular dive destinations.
“Last year, I visited 35 reefs to conduct reef health surveys as part of the Master Reef Guide program, run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Tourism and Events Queensland, the Great Reef Census, and personal dive expeditions,” Johnny said.
“On these trips, I found some amazing sites which was the inspiration to create my personal top 10 list. “Obviously, the ranking is subjective, but it takes into consideration coral cover, general reef health and disturbance of the sites.”
Johnny’s top 10 reefs with his reasons for choosing them:
10. Sudbury Reef, Cairns
Sudbury Reef is tucked behind Fitzroy Island off Cairns with a beautiful white sand cay at its northern end. From steep drop-offs to shallow clam gardens – Sudbury Reef offers a variety of snorkel and dive spots.
“This reef was different than most of the other reefs I visited last year. It was dominated by soft coral and had a very high number of parrot fish and mullet which reminded me of the Whitsundays. The marine life here is incredible and something you’d expect to see at much deeper dive sites usually.”
9. Little Baron Reef, Yeppoon
Little Baron Reef is one of more than 1000 separate coral reefs within the Swain Reefs National Park, located just 200km off the coast of Yeppoon.
“The reef here was mostly hard coral and in great condition with spectacular drop-offs. We also saw a huge loggerhead turtle here which was amazing.”
8. Kangaroo Reef, Bowen
Kangaroo Reef (East) sits inside a protected green zone offshore from the small seaside town of Bowen at the top of the Whitsundays region. The reef has a channel running through its middle, creating a spectacular drop-off. The coral cover, vertical walls and fish life are incredible.
“There is a fast current running through the channel which is great for coral growth as this keeps the surface temperatures well-mixed and cooler in summer while also delivering food in the form of plankton.”
7. Unnamed Reef, Yeppoon
This little gem is part of the Swains Reef National Park – a large collection of small reefs, most of which are unnamed. Unnamed reefs can be located with the help of the reference maps provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The GBRMPA refence for this particular reef is 21-227. It is located roughly 280km off Yeppoon.
“This particular reef had spectacular swim-throughs, caves and coral cover that was inhabited by a high diversity of fish species and a few species of friendly sharks. The underwater topography at this site was unbeatable with dramatic walls and gutters for deep swim-throughs.”
6. Fitzroy Reef, Great Keppel Island
Fitzroy Reef (pictured top) is the largest of 22 reefs that form the Capricorn and Bunker groups in the southern Great Barrier Reef. This site is popular with divers and snorkelers because the reef forms a ring around a large, deep lagoon that offers protection and anchorage points.
“It was an amazing light blue colour with reefs scattered throughout. The highlight was the coral slopes near the channel entry to the lagoon. The slopes were completely covered in tightly compacted diverse hard corals with lots of fish life, particularly parrotfish.”
5. Tiger Reef, Bowen
Tiger Reef is a semi-exposed reef off the coast of Bowen, right next to Kangaroo Reef.
“We were excited to visit Tiger Reef because firstly, it’s called Tiger Reef, and secondly, it is close to the path Cyclone Debbie took in 2017, so we were very interested to see if the protected side still had coral cover. We were relieved to find that it was in great condition and had barely any cyclone damage.”
4. Briggs Reef, Cairns
Briggs Reef is a smaller reef sitting snugly between the larger Moore and Sudbury reefs near Fitzroy Island off Cairns.
“I was blown away by the variety of coral on the reef walls and bommies. Compared to other sites, Briggs Reef has a very high hard coral cover and we saw a few turtles and small sharks. The site was a real surprise to me. Being so close to Cairns, it’s a great spot for novice or advanced divers.”
3. Secret Reef, The Whitsundays
Not ready to reveal the location of this particular reef, Johnny said: “It’s always good to keep a secret or two. It’s a spectacular system of lagoons with very high coral and fish diversity. It’s very delicate but an incredible ecosystem not too far from one of the more popular dive sites in the Whitsundays.”
2. Elisabeth Reef, The Whitsundays
On the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the Whitsundays (about 110km north of the Whitsunday Islands) sits Elisabeth Reef, described by Johnny as one of the most incredible coral habitats he has ever seen.
“The water here is crystal clear with thousands of fish zooming around the reef. This site has considerably high coral cover, particularly on the reef edge. Up to 100% in some parts, which is outstanding and makes it one of my favourite dive sites.”
1. Crystal Blue Hole, Yeppoon
“My number one reef site from my latest expeditions would have to be Crystal Blue Hole, a small reef with a perfect lagoon anchorage right next to a 45m deep blue hole. The site is 270km offshore from Yeppoon and part of the Swains National Park. For me, it doesn’t get any better. Inside the hole there was coral cover all around the edge, then a steep drop down into the blue. I couldn’t even see the bottom.”