Castaways on Coral Cays

We were seeking a change of scenery and you don’t get much better than exploring coral cays beaming in the sunshine in the middle of the azure ocean.

Coral cays are small sand islets created when sediment and fragments of the reef as well as lots of sand excreted by parrotfish (we kid you not) build up on the leeside of the reef flat where they are deposited by waves and winds. With time, they gather into small islands. Some of the cays are just bare sand, others are vegetated. So for four days, we played castaway on coral cays!

Green Island

You can see why it is called Green Island, however you might be surprised to know that this is not a continental island, but a vegetated coral cay. It is a National Park with a resort on it, close to Cairns and therefore a very well frequented spot. Lots of day trippers come by commercial boat to visit.

But if you take a walk ashore early in the morning before the crowds arrive, it is actually a pleasant island, with a well maintained path and interpretive signs. We saw quite a few birds.

Buff-banded Rail
Reef Heron
Reef Egret

There is an extensive fringing reef, although the marine life there is poor. But it is an easy and relatively protected anchorage so after days of being tossed around at the reef, it was nice to stay overnight in calm waters and we witnessed a magnificent sunset.

Vlasoff Cay

Only a few miles on through a network of reefs is the deserted and very small Vlasoff Cay.

We saw unbelievably beautiful graduations of aqua, turquoise and ultramarine as far as the eye could see. You wish you could get Vlasoff to yourself. But you won’t. It is a favourite with choppers from Cairns, some of which land there and drop couples for a brief visit, complete with sun umbrella, deck chairs and a glass of bubbly. Us, we just took the dinghy from Anui then walked right around the islet… it took the whole of 5 minutes! Yes, very small!

The colours were hard to beat, unlike the snorkeling: not a lot there to see which is just as well because with a deep blister on my toe threatening to become a sea ulcer, using fins has become incredibly painful.

I thought, if I can’t snorkel, I’ll fly the drone. But it was just too windy, then too overcast the next morning for good footage!

Michaelmas Cay

Next stop: Michaelmas Cay (pronounced mickelmus).

Okay, let’s do a quick experiment. Name 10 animals that live in the Great Barrier Reef—I’ll give you a minute.

Done? How many did you get? Sea turtles, check. Nemo, check. Butterflyfish, triggerfish, check, check. Parrotfish, maori wrasse, whitetip reef shark, moorish idol, check, check, check and check. Surgeonfish, batfish, check and check. Great, you got ten. However, did you name any animals NOT living in the water?

Little known fact: The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet, has over 200 species of sea birds that either live there full time or transit through during migrations. A few of these bird species, approximately 16, can be found at Michaelmas Cay, one of the most important nesting sites in the Southern Hemisphere. You will find sooty terns, brown boobies, frigate birds, common noddies, bridled terns, black-naped terns, to name just a few.

Michaelmas Cay is a small low sand islet on the western tip of the Michaelmas Reef. It covers an area of 1.5 hectares and rises to the dizzy height of 3.5 metres above sea level. As you approach the sand cay, you are astounded by the number of birds and the noise level… and the smell of guano! There are so many that at a distance it looks like a black cloud hovers over the sand. With 20,000 pairs of seabirds recorded nesting at Michaelmas Cay it is no wonder!

Noddies, Sooty Terns, Brown Boobies

We went ashore once the tourists were gone and observed the many birds nesting. Here is a slide show. Our favourites were the male Brown Boobies with their blue beak and green feet, and we were thrilled to see a Frigate bird, ostracised at one end of the cay as you would expect a pirate of the sky to be!

You come to the Michaelmas Cay for the birdlife more so than the underwater life. We checked out the bommies, but they were not all that exciting, however what was great fun was swimming with a huge number Round Batfish at the back of the boat. We tried to count them – well over 20 inquisitive big beefy silver disks swimming with us, at us, around us… totally unafraid. It is one of those experiences that makes you giggle underwater! And the Black Trevallies were rather tame and friendly too, even if they looked big and threatening!

Although there are quite a few commercial boats here during the day, the cay provides far better shelter than at Vlasoff. So we stayed overnight in the company of one other yacht and will probably come back to explore the corals a bit more.

On 29 August, we left for Norman Reef. Plenty more to tell about this little adventure in the next post!

8 thoughts on “Castaways on Coral Cays

  1. Very good shots of birds! I was surprised to know that you have Frigatebirds there. Thanks, Chris, take care of your toe. 🙂

    • Hi HJ… yes it was a surprise to us to see a couple of frigatebirds. It was obvious they were quite a distance from the other species – not welcome among the numerous other nesting birds!

    • Thanks Pete, glad you enjoyed it. The headsets are excellent… really handy for picking up a mooring as once I bring the boat to one, I can’t see it from the wheel so Wade can direct for the perfect pick up… and all without screaming at each other in the wind! I just have to put up with the heavy breathing in my ear as he lifts the heavy rope on board! 😜

  2. Great post Chris. Have started my Keppels trip but with a new strange noise from the outboard I am not prepared to ventue to the outer reef. However still plenty to see.

  3. Blister, you have better consider my solution and wear socks when snorkling. I loved the Cays and the birds, so impressive, not to mention those wonderful Batfish. It has been so good for you to explore the area around and north of Cairns

    • Yes I have been wearing the socks and thick bandaids – can’t do without, and even then it gets pretty sore. The cats and reefs offshore of Cairns and Port Douglas have been amazing!

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