Its been about 12 months since I last dived the inner reefs off Cairns. My last trip coincided with the massive coral bleaching event associated with the 2016 El Nino and I was actually pleasantly surprised about how limited the bleaching was off Cairns (I understand the Northern reefs were hit much harder).
I finally was able to get a week off work from my day job as a Motor Underwriter in Brisbane to get up to Cairns and see how the reef had fared since last year. I chose to go with Pro Dive who offer 3 day/ 2 night trips which represent excellent value. I’ve done about half a dozen trips and always had a great time. I was a bid deflated to discover just before I left that the lingering effect of the previous years El Nino was causing another bleaching event this year and I have to say water temps felt pretty hot for most of my dives compared to what I’m normally used to. That said, whilst I again saw plenty of evidence of bleaching during my diving this year, it was still only clearly evident in about 10-15% of the coral I saw and there was still plenty of spectacular coral reef to view.
Don’t let the doom merchants, who would have you believe you’ll be visiting a coral wasteland when you dive the Great Barrier Reef. Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. I saw plenty of healthy coral and a wide variety of sea life in the 20 or more dives I made over a 6 day period.
When you dive with Pro Dive Cairns, your picked up from your accomodation at about 6am in the morning and taken out to one of 3 boats they use. They all have the same layout, are reasonably spacious and well suited to the numbers of divers they take. It takes about 3 hrs cruising from Cairns before you reach the first dive site which in this case was Milln Reef. By this time all the briefings have been completed and your ready to dive.
I was fortunate to buddy with Anna, a wonderful girl visiting from Finland, with a great sense of humor and Ross from the UK. When your diving with expensive camera gear and keen on taking your time to photograph stuff, its important to have dive buddies who are understanding, patient and willing to do a little modelling on the side. Anna and Ross were both excellent in this regard.
One of the things I’ve always liked about the reefs that Pro-dive visit is the abundance of sea turtles and this trip was no different. One site in particular called Gordon’s Mooring is famous for a rather large sea turtle affectionately known as Brian (I’m not sure how he got his name). He has been there nearly everytime I dive the site but you normally see him on the night dive. This trip I was fortunate to catch up with him during the day and take a nice photo of him resting on the coral.
The visibility was exceptional during the entire trip, in fact probably as good as I’ve ever encountered on the reef. Little to no breeze and small tides certainly helped in this regard although they probably didn’t help moderate water temps. With such great conditions we were also able to dive a site called Cathedral at Thetford Reef. If you ever get the chance to dive this site with small tides and good visibility you’ll find it amazing.
All in all an awesome trip. Hopefully with the 2016 El Nino now fading into memory, ocean temps on the reef will be a little cooler and the coral that survive the back to back events in 2016/17 will have a chance to recover. I hope to take a trip to the Northern Reefs later in the year with my other favorite dive operator in Cairns, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and I’ll be sure to add a blog post after that trip.