The Coral Sea and Ribbon Reef Dive Sites
The outer barrier reef is only reachable via liveaboard due to the great distance from the Queensland coast. It offers some of the best scuba diving in Australia.
The outer barrier reef has some of the best dive sites on Australia’s East Coast and in Queensland. The Ribbon Reefs and Coral Sea dive sites are both remote with pristine reefs. Divers often have close up encounters and can swim with sharks. There are also numerous manta ray cleaning stations where many of the mantas gather together making an amazing sight.
During June and July, the itineraries of the liveaboard cruises change so guests can enjoy the migration of the minke whales. The special cruises do not have a set schedule as such but follow the migration trail of the whales. An exclusive licence is required to operate these trips, and only snorkelling is possible with the minke whales. Diving still takes place as per the itinerary, but if the whales are spotted, then the timings may change to join them swimming.
Take a look at the Liveaboard Cruise options below.
The Coral Sea and Ribbon Reef Dive Sites - 4 LIVEABOARDS
Coral Sea Dreaming
Coral Sea Dreaming Liveaboard in Australia is a 16m steel-hulled yacht providing budget friendly overnight cruises to the Great Barrier reef departing three days a week. She accommodates just 12 guests onboard in a range of cabins with air conditioning; bathrooms are shared. There is a saloon where delicious meals are served buffet style, and a forward deck provides space for relaxing and sunbathing. The dive area covers nine different reefs, and the crew welcome both certified divers and snorkelers.Book Now
Spoilsport Liveaboard in Australia is an award-winning custom-built vessel of 30 metres with a twin hull design to maximise stability for guests on board. Guest cabins can be either double or twin shared with four cabin styles that are air conditioned. There are spacious bar and lounge areas inside or a large sundeck with a shaded area for guests to use and relax in. Dives are open deck style, and dedicated camera facilities are available.Book Now
True North Liveaboard is a 50 metre vessel offering cruises to Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. She has a capacity of 36 guests in 16 cabins. Her accommodation level is close to that you would receive in exclusive hotels with fine dining. Large staterooms and she has numerous lavish vantage points around the ship. Diving is offered on some of the cruises, and others are adventure only, all dives are included so guests can choose how much they wish to do.Book Now
Highlights in the Coral Sea include Osprey Reef, Bougainville Reef and Holmes Reef.
Osprey Reef is considered the best diving in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef area. The reef is the furthest point and has nutrient-rich water as it is beyond the continental shelf and currents carry this upwards to the sites.
Admiralty is one of the showcase sites that divers can enjoy time and time again as visibility can go beyond 60m. Named after an old anchor sitting in a small cave that creates a narrow swim-through that leading to the reef fingers with sandy channels.
White tip and grey reef sharks circle the area, and often an eagle ray can be spotted in the deeper areas. Around the leather and staghorn corals are schools of snapper, wrasse and butterflyfish.
Around the Bend
This is a drift dive with coral bommies surrounded by rubble. One bommie has a tag-line attached for divers to hold on to at 20-25m so they can stay at the cleaning station to watch the many mantas that frequent the area.
The mantas will take advantage of the natural cleaning station with the cleaner wrasse removing the parasites that attach themselves during their underwater travels.
The dive continues with a sandy channel occupied by white tip reef sharks that leads to the lagoon area of the site. The lagoon is a coral garden with colourful blue staghorn covered in anthias and damselfish, while butterflyfish are hovering over them.
Coral Canyons lives up to its name as the topography is long coral rubble canyons at 30- 40m of depth which divide the large coral outcrops.
The reef tops are at 10 to 20m of depth where the colourful clown triggerfish reside, as you reach the edge of the site there is a drop off descending to 1400m. Here look for the schooling jackfish, yellow and blacktail snappers.
Between the reef in the rubble bottom look for resting white tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks especially close to the edge.
False Entrance this is a great drift dive covering a vast area of reef and coral bommies. The reef descends to 30m with whip corals and gorgonian fans. There are scorpionfish, stonefish, pipefish and hawkfish along with feather stars and sea squirts adding to the colour. When currents are strong divers can take refuge in the coral block to slow down and see the life.
Great visibility makes the deep drop off an exciting site, and it is always good to check the blue water for manta or eagle rays, white tips and grey reef sharks as well as barracuda and trevally.
North Horn is at the northern tip of the reef and can be an excellent drift dive, but it is known for its shark feeding dive. This is done after the orientation showcasing the healthy hard and soft corals.
Other large pelagics can be seen in the area, such as manta rays and even sailfish.
On the shark feeding dive which is conducted under strict regulations of the Queensland government, you will see many sharks on the descent. The divers form a semi-circle at 12m of depth, and the chump is released about 15m away from the divers.
White tips, grey reef, grey whalers, silver tips and even hammerhead sharks have been seen to join in the feeding. Other fish such as potato cod, tuna and fusiliers also are seen in the mix.
(Note: The environmental management fee that you pay contributes to the creation of no-take zones which, at the point of writing this area is being considered for inclusion in this.)
Bougainville is a unique site that can only be dived at certain times of the year due to its remote nature. This results in the area being pristine.
The Zoo is named after the diverse marine life found at the site. There is plenty of shark action from the white tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks in the blue which makes it one of the favoured sites in the reef system.
Stingrays, green and hawksbill turtles plus schooling reef fish like butterflies and unicorns make it a memorable site.
The Antonio Taraboccia Wreck
This wreck was an Italian cargo ship that sank in a storm in 1961 after hitting the reef on a rainy night with strong winds. The wreckage is now scattered over the site of the terraced reef, and home to the abundant marine life found here including a resident potato cod.
Dungeons and Dragons
The Dungeons & Dragons is named after the maze of tunnels, caves and swim-throughs forming its topography. Exploring the area results in great macro and reef life finds such as morays, lobsters, nudibranchs and reef fish like butterflies, tilefish, hawkfish and lionfish.
In the deeper area, there is a wall descending below 1000m where sharks, barracuda and other pelagic can be passing by.
Holmes Reef is a truly remote spot in the Coral Sea. It was named by a young Captain Henry Holmes who tried to navigate the uncharted area en route to Hong Kong.
Amazing is a site full of bommies, tunnels and swim-throughs that teems with life from octopus, cuttlefish and lobster to the grey and silver tip reef sharks along with many white tips in the shallow walled area.
Turtles, potatoe cod and the rare stubby tail eels can be seen here along with fields of garden eels in the seafloor.
Nonki Bommie is a massive pinnacle at 4m down to 35m of depth that has a crack or canyon down the centre splitting it into two halves. Inside the crack are huge section in orange and yellowish assorted soft corals.
Divers usually spiral up the site from the deeper area taking time to explore the pinnacle for the macro and reef life abundant on it. Clownfish, nudibranchs, long nose hawkfish and butterflyfish.
Larger pelagic cruise the outer area with everything from tuna, reef sharks and turtles to the occasional hammerhead being seen.
The Abyss like the site name suggests has a deep drop off to over 1000m and is one of the most popular dives on Holmes Reef.
You drift dive along the wall covered in hard and soft corals and clams. Do not overlook the smaller creatures with nudibranchs, pipefish, shrimp and other crustaceans in abundance.
Cathedral offers a dramatic site similar to the Abyss with a wall descending to depth. The site offers grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, and turtles as well as dogtooth tuna and potato cod surrounded by hard and soft corals. Napoleon wrasse can also be found here.
Turtle dive site was named after the numerous sightings of the various turtle species in the shallow bommies and reefs edge along with potato cod.
Coral blocks rise from the sandy seabed that is home to garden eels and resting white tip sharks.
A fantastic array of crustaceans make this site unique with cleaner shrimp, Saron shrimp and bumble bee squat lobsters resident.
Ribbon Reefs are located along the Queensland coast at the edge of the continental shelf, consisting of 175km of reef with diverse corals and marine life due to the nutrient-rich water.
Cod Hole named after the giant potato cod often the size of divers who seem to pose for photographs and are unbothered by divers.
One of the most famous sites of Ribbon reef this terraced site has Napoleon wrasse, moray eels, seahorses, ghost pipefish and even lacey scorpionfish.
At the deepest point 32m, there are some caverns and swim-throughs with a sandy area that sharks and trevally are seen. The shallow area is ideal for macro life with nudibranchs and gobies.
The Potato Cod are the highlight of the dive, up to 2m in length they approach divers waiting for the guides to feed them as regulated by the GBRMPA. Dive boats must have a licence to participate in this. The cod will often nudge the divers as a sign they are waiting for the feeding to begin.
Lighthouse Bommie is a large pinnacle starting at 30m and rising to 5m covered in life with macro creatures hiding in the corals as well as the larger pelagic's passing by.
Look for trevally, barracuda, fusiliers along with the occasional manta and eagle rays.
During the migration season for the minke whales, this is a great place to view them.
Challenger Bay is a great dive either in daylight or at night time. It is a sandy bottom site with pinnacles and a staghorn reef field.
Schools of batfish and sweetlips along with mackerel, tuna and barracuda are common here, along with stingrays and white tip reef sharks.
At night octopus and free swimming morays are common, as are the banded cleaner shrimp, lobsters, lionfish and parrot fish in their mucus sacks. But it is the giant trevally, up to 1.7m, which accompany the divers during the dive hunting in the torchlight that makes this unique.
Pixie Pinnacle like the name suggests in a pinnacle dive down to 30m and only 15m in width which teems with fish life and a macro enthusiasts heaven.
Swarming the coral surface of the block are basslets, anthias, and clownfish, circled by Barracuda, mackerel and trevally that dart in to try and feast on them.
At the start of the dive look for the stingrays in the sand and white tip reef sharks, before spiralling up taking a close look at the fantastic macro life.
Nudibranchs, pipefish, shrimps and crabs are hidden in the corals and crevices, with stonefish, moray eels lionfish and groupers on the pinnacle.
Pixie Gardens is a sloping reef with coral blocks that lead to a reef wall, and the sandy area has a field of garden eels. The highlight of the dive are the resident leafy scorpion fish, with their camouflage skills, they can be difficult to spot with colours ranging from pink and red through to green. They are usually found in the shallower water with up to 3 at any time on one coral block.
Other marine life is pipefish, cuttlefish, nudibranchs, lionfish, moray eels and boxfish.
Pixie Caves is a gently sloping reef down to 30m. The sandy area has goby and partner shrimp, flatworms and some patch corals. For the macro life look on the whip coral for coral shrimp and coral crabs on the soft coral.
The crevices are in the wall which in some parts open to the surface to allow light in from above, a few are large enough for divers to enter. Surgeonfish, rabbitfish, fusiliers and grunts are found here.
Steve's Bommie is named after the plaque at around 25 metres bearing this name, the reason for this varies depending on which guide or vessel tells the story. Rising from 25m the coral block has both hard and soft corals, gorgonian sea fans and anemones housing five different anemone fish.
On close inspection you can find stonefish, leafy scorpionfish, nudibranchs, pipefish and octopus.
At the base look for camouflaged wobbegong sharks. Also there are white tip reef sharks and in season minke whales. Barracuda, trevally, snappers, fusiliers and goatfish are common sitings.
Temple of Doom
Temple of Doom, a kidney-shaped bommie from 24m to 3m in a sandy seabed, offers year-round diving with Minke whales in the season.
Sharks and rays are common with blue trevally up to 70m in length schooling off the coral block.
Overhangs in the rocks often house turtles, and for divers with good eyes macro life is prevalent.
Surgeonfish, trumpetfish, moorish idols are found together with anemone fish. Batfish hang around in both schools and individuals.
Clam Gardens is four large coral blocks in a shallow area meaning plenty of natural light for photographers and longer NDL’s.
Giant clams up to 2m in length are found here with an estimated age of over 150 years. In the seabed, you find garden eels and a large field of staghorn coral and schooling bumphead parrotfish.
Special Minke Whale Expeditions
The Minke whale migration occurs in this area in June and July each year, and many liveaboards offer specifically tailored trips to maximise the encounters with these amazing whales.
These expeditions are suitable for diving and snorkelling and follow a strict code of practice with the itinerary being dictated by the whales themselves.
Marine Park and Conservation in Australia and the Great Barrier Reef
Australia has many conservation projects running to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Each diver will be charged a Government Environmental Management Charge (EMC).
The Environmental Management Charge or EMC must be paid by commercial operators that are granted permits by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
This includes operators that allow programmes and operating facilities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.