Hiding at Low Isles

It could not last: four days of blissfully calm weather have given way to four days of blowy conditions. We have retreated to Low Isles. Back to wind in the rigging, waves slapping the hulls, us getting tossed around in the chop and cabin fever threatening!

Two islands make up the Low Isles group. There is Low Isle itself, a vegetated coral cay of only 1.6 hectares, and an adjoining mangrove island of 45 hectares called Woody Island. At low tide a large reef joins the two isles together.

Aerial of Low Isle taken before the wind picked up!
Looking across the reef flat towards Woody Island at low tide

Although quite well protected and with three public moorings within the quasi lagoon and two further out, you don’t come to Low Isles to enjoy a secluded anchorage. As well as a few yachts taking refuge, a number of tour operators bring their loads of tourists twice a day from Port Douglas. So things get rather busy! But if you go ashore early in the morning before 8.00 am, or later in the afternoon after 4 pm, you can enjoy quieter conditions and observe the birdlife, which is plentiful. Ospreys, Beach Stone Curlews, Kingfishers, Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrels are some of the birds you will see. Here is a slideshow of a few we photographed.

  • Beach Stone Curlews
  • Osprey
  • Sacred Kingfisher
  • Ruddy Turnstones
  • Reef Egret - Dark phase
  • Whimbrel

A lovely sight at the end of each day is the return of the Pied Imperial Pigeons to their nests on Woody Island. Successive flocks come streaming in for an hour before sunset.

From the state of our bows and the racket at night, you can see that a few of the seabirds also enjoy a rest on Anui, particularly the Sooty Terns!

Sooty Terns – another kind of poop machines!
If only they stayed on the mooring rope!

The views from Low Isles towards the mainland range are stunning. This is looking towards the Daintree Rainforest area at low tide, then at high tide at sunset.

It was interesting to discover that in 1928 Low Isles was the sight of the first detailed scientific study of a coral reef anywhere in the world. Because of this it provides a very important baseline for current climate change research. We suspect an updated study at Low Isles these days would show much damage to the 22 hectares of surrounding reef! It might have been declared a green zone to aid its recovery, but it is a sorry sight right now. This is the worst we have seen, the effect of coastal run off.

A sad sight
Hardly anything alive

We went in the water for some exercise and that’s about it! We pity the many tourists who pay good money to come here from Port Douglas. They may well enjoy the short walk around the island and the birdlife, but the snorkel would leave a lot to be desired!

Where to next?

Probably back out to the reef! We were talking to a local yachtie who recommended a spot at Batt Reef. Another option is to go a little way up the Daintree River or Dickson Inlet at Port Douglas, but we are scared of midges, sand-flies and crocs, although just quietly I’d love to see a ‘toothy’ from the boat.

So we are here for another day, then we’ll see how the weather develops. In any case we are hanging around the area, within easy reach of Cairns, as we are picking up family there on 20 September, then heading south.

15 thoughts on “Hiding at Low Isles

    • Hi Leanne, yes the ospreys’ nest is amazing… there are two ospreys, one perched on the lighthouse balustrade and the other is on the nest.

      The damage from coastal run off is bad. The sediment, nutrients and contaminants are really detrimental. They favour the development of algae which suffocate the coral. There are still lots of fish about if you can see them in the murky water. Where the GBR Marine Authority have declared green zones (no take whatsoever), you can hope the areas can recover. We have seen the effect of this further offshore. But so close to the mainland it feels like a bit of a lost cause.

      • Algae is horrible, we had a sea water fish tank once, with lots of coral, but when we moved here the water just bred the algae. Couldn’t get a control on it. It was driving us nuts. Hopefully they can recover, but they would need to stop the runoff, right?

      • Yes, exactly. Limiting nutrients runoff is the most important action to be taken. Runoff has a double effect: the added nutrients in the water favour the algal growth which smothers the coral and the turbid water robs them of the light they need to survive. I probably should write a post on this and what we personally can do to help.

    • Thanks HJ. I was glad to have my Canon7Dii back for them, especially for the in flight shots! Glad you like them and the aerial shots. Learning lots, but I need the right conditions.

  1. The damage to the reef is horrible, all in the name of profits and growing crops where none should be and using huge amounts of chemicals to ensure their survival rather than our reef. Loved the birds

    • Yes it is shocking. Coastal runoff is recognised as the most significant threats to the long term health and resilience of the GBR. I reckon every single politician and policy maker should be required to go snorkeling on the reef because it is hard to imagine not wanting to do everything you can to protect and preserve it once you have spent time on it.

  2. love those beach curlews! It is a pity the ‘garden’ at low Isles is no longer what it used to be – it was so soft and pretty. Dickson’s Inlet definitely for the ‘toothy’ folk. The front picture on my blog site for September 2016 was taken of a local toothy at low tide only a few (about 5 or 6) meters from the back of Sengo. We were also in only a meter of water at the time so you can imagine we were quite conscious of where he went after he had finished sunning himself. A note of caution: keep Bengie inside; local stories from that area include one croc who followed an individual in his tinnie at the beginning and end of the day (to and from work) every day (clearly just to let the individual know he was being watched – they might have a small brain but they are cunning), and one croc who took a dog off the deck of a monohull (approx two meters from the water’s surface).

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