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Reefs and Cays

Australia is surrounded by many thousands of small fringing islands and numerous larger ones. There are also 618 continental islands which were once part of the mainland, as well as 44 low wooded islands and approximately 300 coral cays. The Great Barrier Reef, which extends for more than 2,000km off the east coast of Australia, comprises some 3,400 individual reefs, including 760 fringing reefs, which provide the most spectacular marine scenery on earth.

The Great Barrier Reef: Qld



The Great Barrier Reef extends for more than 2,000km off the east coast of Australia, from just south of the Tropic of Capricorn to the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea. It includes the world's most extensive stretch of coral reef. The reef system, extending to Papua New Guinea, comprises some 3,400 individual reefs, including 760 fringing reefs, which range in size from under 1ha to over 10,000ha and vary in shape to provide the most spectacular marine scenery on earth. There are approximately 300 coral cays, including 213 unvegetated cays, 43 vegetated cays and 44 low wooded islands. There are also 618 continental islands which were once part of the mainland.
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  • Upolu Cay: Qld



    A middle shelf within the Cairns Section of the Great Barrier Reef, there is a vegetated sand cay on the western side. The area of the reef is 1210 ha. Upolu Reef is typical of a midshelf Reef with generally moderate to low coral cover. Crown-of-thorn starfish has not significantly impacted this Location and coral areas away from the cay towards the north-eastern part of the reef are significant for coral viewing by commercial tourism operations. Upolu Cay and reef are part of the traditional sea country of the Yirranydji, Mandingalbay Yidinji and Gungandji people.

    Upolu Cay and Reef are named after the schooner Upolu, owned by William Pitts of Sydney, which struck the reef on Easter Sunday 25 April, in 1886. The crew salvaged stores picked up the day before in Townsville and ferried them to a sand cay three miles away, where they spent the night. The crew set sail for Port Douglas in a lifeboat on 27th March and was eventually picked up by the Bulimba off Cape Grafton on 4th May.
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    • Coral Sea reefs and cays: Qld



      Holmes Reef and Bougainville Reef (right) lie 240 kms from mainland Australia; one due east, the other north east from Cairns in North Queensland. Part of the Gt Barrier Reef, Holmes Reef has three distinct reefs covering an area of 450 square kms. Diving this area is good all year round. Visibility reaches 100 metres plus and is rarely less than 50 metres. Very few of these reefs have ever been dived, being surrounded by depths of 1000 metres, rising vertically to the surface, offering magnificent wall and drift diving opportunities. Large pelagics, Gorgonia fans, sharks and several species of tropical fish common only to the Coral Sea make these reefs a truly unique dive location.
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      • Ribbon Reef dive sites include: "Temple of Doom" which is a large pinnacle covered in beautiful coral growth and pulsates with reef and pelagic fish; "Challenger Bay" has hard and soft corals and a stunning variety of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, flatworms, clams, angelfish, pipefish wrasses and it is not uncommon to spot a Manta Ray; "Pixie Pinnacle" is a spectacular coral head that rises from 30m of water to almost break the surface. Spectacular fish life including multitudes of Lionfish & Schooling Anthias; "Steve s Bommie" is a beautiful divesite, with a surprise waiting around every corner, another pinnacle reef that is absolutely teeming with fish life. There are so many schooling fish, of many varieties, that you can literally part them like curtains as you swim through.



        Osprey Reef is one of the most spectacular dive sites in the world. At "North Horn" you will see Trevally, Tuna, schools of Barracuda and are most likely meet the resident White Tip Reef Sharks. Tours to the reef conduct an exciting shark feed (above) where it is most possible to see Grey reef, Silvertip and Hammerhead sharks.



        Wheeler Reef is a white sand cay in the Coral Sea is set in a lagoon which has become a haven for seabirds and turtles. Coral pinnacles rise from the depths, festooned with golden Gorgonia fans, a mere backdrop to a multitude of other marine life. Swim with and hand-feed giant Potato cod, Maori Wrasse and Moray Eels at famous Cod Hole. Visibility is guaranteed to be at least 30 metres.
        • Wheeler Reef Dive Trip

        • During the months of June - August, dwarf minke whales migrate through the Barrier Reef. They are friendly and not afraid of human contact, and will often approach the vessel and interact with guests by jumping, broaching or presenting their belly. Diving with whales is prohibited, but snorkelling from a Mermaid line gives a unique opportunity to interact with these magnificent mammals.

          Gneering Shoals: Qld



          The inner and outer shoals and Mudjimba Island are coastal rocky-reef communities approximately 250 km south of the Great Barrier Reef in open water off Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. The Gneering Shoals have low coral species richness relative to the southern Great Barrier Reef (244 species) and Flinders Reef, 50 km to the south-east (118 species). A few meters below the shoal's sharp summit, the rock spreads out and down to form a large group of rocks and boulders covered with coral growth and a profusion of associated life. Resident fish include morwong, and smaller species such as wrasse leatherjackets, baitfish, bullseyes, catfish, butterfly and angels. There are numerous urchins and wobbygongs. Pelagic fish are found circling the pinicle during the winter months.
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          • Beware Reef: Vic

            Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary is located south east of Cape Conran in East Gippsland. It covers 220 hectares and extends for a distance of 500 metres from the reef edge. The granite reef is covered by forests of bull kelp and shipwreck remains, as well as a diverse range of invertebrates and more than 20 species of reef fish. As the name suggests Beware Reef represents a dangerous object for navigation and has resulted in a number of wrecks over the last 150 years.

            Shipwrecks that have occurred on Beware Reef located within the Marine Sanctuary include the Ridge Park (1878), a cargo steamer that ran into the reef due to inattentiveness by the Captain. The widely scattered remains of the SS Ridge Park include the straight stemmed triangular bow structure, winch, a squashed boiler, the engine, propeller and broken up hull plating in 7 - 24 metres depth on the north-western side of the reef.
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            • Mushroom Reef: Vic



              Located on the open coast at Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula and covering 80 hectares in area, Mushroom Reef Marine Sanctuary supports the most diverse intertidal rocky reef communities in Victoria. The Marine Sanctuary comprises an extensive rock platform, with sheltered rock pools and coves protected by a shallow reef on the ocean side. The rocky shores and surrounding reefs at Flinders, at the south-west corner of Western Port, are famous for the diversity of their marine life.

              At low tide, the sea withdraws to expose a huge mushroom-shaped platform. The reef is formed from ancient basalt that has weathered gracefully, allowing a multitude of creatures to hide under the loose rocks or within the crevices and cracks. The exposed ocean area of this sanctuary contains numerous subtidal pools and boulders in the intertidal area, and basalt substrates, which provide a rich variety of microhabitats.
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              • Montgomery Reef: WA



                Montgomery Reef in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia is subject to one of the most significant and unusual tidal movements in the world. Arriving by charter boat or by tourist cruiser to the area, at high water you drop anchor in what appears to be an endless ocean. As the tide drops, a raging torrent of water, cascading off the top of the reef, erupts as the reef slowly rises out of the water. What started out as a nice spot for a cuppa becomes a raging river as the waters rush past your vessel to battle its way out into open water.
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                • Ningaloo Reef: WA



                  The Ningaloo Reef, which meets the beach of the North West Cape in Western Australia, is a virtually untouched barrier reef of 260km length protecting a shallow, brilliant white sandy lagoon of clear tropical waters. It is one of the rare places on earth where you are able to walk from the beach straight onto a coral reef. More than 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral make up the Ningaloo Reef; a protected marine park. With the sea only up in your knees, you can allow the many coloured fish to swim and feed between your legs. People of all ages can enjoy the thrill of snorkeling amid the dazzling display of tropical species and colours of fish and coral in the shallows "like swimming through the stars".
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                  • Morning Reef, Abrolhos Islands: WA



                    Morning Reef can be found in the Wallabi Group of reefs and islands in the Houtman Abrolhos off the coast of Western Australia. The Abrolhos lie about 60 km west of Geraldton, and consist of 122 islands clustered into three main groups: the Wallabi Group, Easter Group and Pelsaert Group, which extend from north to south across 100km of ocean. Lying in the stream of Western Australia's warm, southward-flowing Leeuwin Current the marine environment surrounding the Abrolhos is a meeting place for tropical and temperate sealife. It was here that, on 4 June 1629, one of the most remarkable sagas in the annals of Australia's maritime history was set in motion, when the Dutch merchant ship Batavia struck Morning Reef. The wreck and subsequent mutiny of its crew occurred 141 years before the famous British navigator Lieut. James Cook explored the east coast of Australia.
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                    • Scott and Seringapatam Reefs: WA


                      Scott Reef

                      A group of atoll-like reefs in the Timor Sea more than 300 km northwest of Cape Leveque, Western Australia, on the edge of the continental shelf. There are three or four separate reef structures, depending on whether Scott Reef Central is counted separately. The group is just one of a number of reef formations off the northwest coast of Australia and belongs to Western Australia. Further to the northeast are Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and to the southwest are the Rowley Shoals. Each of the three reefs rises steeply from the seabed 400 to 500 m below. Much of the reaf area dries at low tide, but besides Sandy Islet of Scott Reef South, there are only a few rocks and sandbanks above the high water mark.
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                      • Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve: WA



                        Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve is located in the Timor Sea about 840 kilometres west of Darwin and 610 kilometres north of Broome. The Reserve includes 583 square kilometres of seabed, three small islands, a large reef shelf and surrounding waters. Rising from a depth of over 100 metres, Ashmore Reef is an example of a shelf-edge atoll. The reef platform is at the edge of the North-west Shelf and covers an area of 239 square kilometres. Ashmore Reef lies at the western extremity of the Sahul Shelf where it is one of only three emergent reef systems. These biologically diverse platform reefs exhibit a high level of inter-dependency with adjacent ecosystems to the north and south. The proximity of the Territory to Indonesia has been the subject of joint official discussions in recent years. In 1997, a Treaty aimed at settling a number of maritime boundaries between the two countries was signed.
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                        • Fleurieu Reef: SA



                          The most famous dive site in South Australia is the Fleurieu Reef, created in 2002 with the scuttling of the ex-HMAS Hobart in Yankalilla Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Unlike other scuttled ships around Australia, most of the ship is accessible to divers, including the inside rooms and gun turrets. The Hobart is the only articially prepared naval wreck in Australia where divers can gain access to an engine room. HMAS Hobart is a 10 minute boat ride from Marina St Vincent. South Australia s famous Leafy Seadragon, unique to the waters of southern Australia and South Australia s famous marine emblem, is a star attraction to divers of these waters. Its close relative the Weedy Seadragon, the sea lions and the giant cuttleish are also found of this region. More ...
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                          • Troubridge Island and Shoals: SA



                            These Shoals are located in the passage of water between Kangaroo Island and the Yorke Peninsula known as the Investigator Strait. The shoals hug the Yorke Peninsula and have been the official cause of at least 35 wrecks and countless groundings. In 1850 alone seven vessels ran aground in an eight-month period. The reefs surrounding Troubridge Island, part of the Shoals, are home to six of the region's earliest sailing vessels: Dart (1838), Parsee (1838), Sultana (1849), Marion (1851), Charles Carter (1854) and Iron King (1873).

                            Troubridge Shoals are also home for magnificent giant spider crabs that claw their way over reefs covered in sponges. The whole area is a delight for divers and underwater photographers because of the diversity of marine life in the area. As the Troubridge Shoals occasionally present treacherous conditions, they are recommended for experienced divers only.
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                            • Nuyts Archipelago: SA



                              Nuyts Archipelago is a scuba divers paradise, a collection of unspoilt islands and reefs on the far west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. The low flat islands extend underwater to shallow reefs covered with diverse and abundant algal communities with seagrasses in sheltered bays. There are many small caves containing an exciting array of soft corals and gorgonians. The islands are home to a world of marine life including Blue Devilfish, Harlequin Fish, Sweep, Southern Rock Lobster, Abalone, Blue Groper and Bottlenose Dolphins. Coral and sponges are also visible in the crystal clear water. More ...
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                              • Noarlunga Reef: SA



                                One of South Australia's premier coastal features, the Port Noarlunga Reef to the immediate south of Adelaide is one of the most dived piece of coast in the Southern Hemisphere. The feef is actually an old sand dune. In the last ice age obviously when the water level was much lower because there was much more ice, this was a sand dune and with the rising of the water instead of washing it out - it actually fused. At one point six kilometres long, it isa today a long thin a strip of rock which, at times drops to a depth of ten metres. Gulf Saint Vincent, Spencer Gulf and the Gulf of California in Mexico are three Gulfs in the world, which experience dodge tides. They are times when there's absolutely no tidal movement and marine life can be exposed to extreme sunlight or submerged for hours on end.
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                                • Darwin Harbour: NT



                                  Several artificial reefs have been developed to encourage recreational fishing. The Japanese air raids on Darwin during World War II in 1942 and Cyclone Tracy in 1974, are also responsible for some of the wrecks in Darwin Harbour. These wrecks are now havens for species like golden snapper, cod, moon fish, Spanish flag, jewfish and barramundi.

                                  Some of the most popular (and quirky) artificial reefs in Darwin Harbour include: The Tipper, named after the tip-trucks that were used to create the reef; The Rick Mills Reef, named after the man who donated old drilling equipment that was sunk to create a reef; The Bottle Washer, named after the large industrial bottle washer, which was sunk to create the reef; The Bus Stop, named for concrete bus shelters that form the reef. Some of the most common reef fish in the Northern Territory are black jewfish, golden snapper and coral trout. Reef fish aren t just pretty; they re notoriously plucky - anglers will need cunning brains to outsmart the tricky snapper, and muscles to conquer the powerful black jewfish.
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                                  • Hebe Reef: Tas



                                    Just out from the mouth of the Tamar River, Hebe Reef is a notorious reef where many ships have come aground. The last was the famous Iron Barron in 1995; unfortunatly there was a large oil leak causing major problems for Tasmania's Little Fairy Penguins that live in the undergrowth herel. Fortunately, many were saved due to efforts by Parks and Wildlife and the general public. The James Wallace, an old steam tug, was scuttled off Hebe reef in 1971. She has never been found and dived after her scuttling. Edenholme Grange, a grand Victorian house (1881) in Launceston, is named after a three-masted Barque that plied from the Port of Launceston which unfortunately came to grief on Hebe Reef. Photo right: wreck of the Eden at Hebe Reef, 1907.
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                                    • Sea Elephant Reef: Tas



                                      Sea Elephant Bay and the rock and reef of the same name off the south-east coast of King Island, has been the site of numerous shipwrecks over the years. Sea Elephant Bay, Rock and Reef were all named by French explorer Francois Peron. Peron was travelling with the French scientific expedition headed by Nicolas Baudin that spent two weeks ashore there in 1802. The name was chosen because "the whole of this bay, when we landed, was covered with sea elephants." Peron was fascinated by the massive creatures, whose bodies "in all their movements, appear to tremble like an enormous bladder full of jelly, so thick is the layer of oily fat that envelops them."


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