Ups and downs of Reef hopping

It is always a bit up and down when you reef hop. Weather conditions and reef health are the big variables and rarely perfect.

Why do we go in less than ideal conditions to find less than ideal reefs? Because there is always something positive to experience: a lovely sail, a breathtaking view, an unusual creature. More than anything we want to capture aspects on the GBR that are exquisite but also give a visual plea to areas that are suffering.

This certainly is the case for the two reefs we are taking you to this week: Otter and Eddy Reefs. We have updated our last satellite image so you can orientate yourselves.

Otter Reef

Otter is made up of what can best be described as patches of reefs in a dotted line about 12 nm long. There is not a well defined reef wall. We targetted one of the patches with a large expanse of clear sand near a tiny cay for stress free anchoring. The cay is more akin to a sand bank and only gets uncovered at low tide.

While the breeze was light we sent the drone up for an overview. You can see how compact our little patch is, how clear the ocean floor is right till you get to the reef platform and where best to go for a snorkel. We find the drone very handy to survey our surroundings. Most of the time we realise we could have got closer in! And of course we get some spectacular images too!

Although the reef is showing storm damage, Otter was interesting to snorkel at with a varied mix of soft and hard corals, a network of gutters where fish patrolled and plenty of marine critters to look at. We could see signs of both cyclone effects and recovery.

  • Diploria
  • Smooth Flutemouth
  • Favia Speciosa
  • Sarcophyton
  • Steephead Parrotfish
  • Steephead and Six Band Parrotfish

The anchorage became too rowdy in 18-20 knots, but we did not have far to go to reach Dunk Island where we stayed for two nights and met up with our cruising buddies and a few other boats we knew.

Eddy Reef

We could not resist going out again during a brief break in the weather before another blow! We initially aimed for Beaver Reef where we had been to before, but we were struggling into wind. Not wanting to motor, we adjusted our course to a new to us spot: Eddy Reef, a little further NW. The satellite map overlay guided our arrival and we anchored easily over clear sand.

Some reefs look promising from the air; this one even had a lagoon! Unfortunately it was very disappointing under the surface. Just as well we had a nice sail! The storm damage was extensive, with much rubble and algae covering the sea floor. The saving grace was the giant clams Tridacna Giga. You can get an idea of their size when you see Wade next to the behemoth. You can also see the very poor state of the surrounding reef.

  • Tridacna giga
  • Tridacna Giga
  • Tridacna Giga close up
  • Tridacna Giga
  • Blue Sea Star

With a few days of strong wind forecast, we had an easy sail back to the coast to shelter at Mourilyan Harbour, a well protected but very shallow spot with not a lot to do other than admiring the view!

We will resume our zig zagging northward between the coast and the reef as the weather improves. It has been interesting to see the trade winds slowly calming down along this part of the coast, but still strong further north around Cairns and Cooktown. So we are deliberately slowing down and staying where the conditions are moderate.

22 thoughts on “Ups and downs of Reef hopping

  1. The reef damage is very obvious around the giant clam which I’ve never seen before, it’s so huge! There are still lots of beautiful things to see regardless of the damage.

    I hope the reefs will heal up and return to full beauty.

    In the second slide show, the sky looks very angry, I’m glad that you guys seek safe harbour! Or harbor as it’s spelt here. 😂 Beautiful photos as always, guys, be safe out there!

    • Hi John, it is always shocking when we find a reef like Eddy which is so damaged. The crazy thing is that neighbouring reef ‘Beaver’ is doing very well. The big difference we guess is that some reefs are in a declared Green Conservation zone where no fishing or take of any kind is allowed and huge fines are imposed if not respected. Maybe it needs to be done on more reefs to allow them to recover. And of course climate change impacts with more and more savage storms and bleaching events don’t help either!

      That stormy looking sky… yes the wind picked up with a squall. We went back to the Coast the next morning.

      • A good idea to head for the coast! I suppose it’s the combination of huge storms and folks taking things from the reef that damages them so badly. Why can’t people get it? Enjoy the beauty, but leave them alone.

  2. Hi Chris. It’s puzzling how neighbouring reefs can be in such different condition. Green Zones certainly help, but weather damage can be so selective. We visited Beaver two years ago & again recently. We were not disappointed. Got some great photos in calm conditions too. Enjoying the sights of Cairns now but looking forward to more reefs on the way south. A – Bossa Nova

    • Hi Amanda – yes read your post on Beaver. Like you we had been there before and when we could not point quite as easily to get to it we shifted to Eddy, thinking it will be nice to check out a new one…. At the Franklin group now waiting to go offshore for a few days then Cairns.

    • Hi Leanne, yes the ‘giga’ are the true giant clams. When you swim over them and shade them they will partly close and squirt you in the process! Not as colourful as smaller clams of the ‘Maxima’ variety but spectacular nevertheless.

  3. Very good pictures, Chris. Pictures of the reef where the clams are, looks devastated, revealing. ..

  4. Hi and many thanks for your great blogs. It seems that Motion X GPS is no longer available- or am I missing something? If so, what do you use as an alternative please? Also, planning to head out to Keeper & Wheeler later this week. Just wondering if we can’t get the moorings is it possible to anchor please? Many thanks, Kerry

    • Hi Kerry, still using Motion X as having got it before it was withdrawn, it still works, but you can use Google Earth. That’s where the sat images come from. If the mooring is taken at Wheeler, you can anchor but it is deep – 18m. You can anchor at Keeper over clear sand in about 10-12m. The easiest Reef to anchor at is Lodestone. Have fun!

  5. Great to see the clams, they are magnificent. I only hope some dope doesn’t get it in their head to steal it cause like many others it is not encased by the reef. Funny how two reefs can be sooo different. Have fun out there on your journeys. Experienced first 5 person picnic this week. Roll on getting restrictions eased more, maybe by Xmas,

    • Hi Sue… We think there should be more green zones to protect more sites and allow damaged or overused ones to recover.
      Not sure what we are going to do with our trip south… might have to stay in QLD again over summer!

  6. Love the drone shots, such beautiful colours and no one else around Anui. The colours of the lips of the clam really stand out against the rubble, beautiful & very sad at the same time.

    • Thanks Lindy – aren’t the Reef colours striking… looks unreal but it is exactly as we find it! And yes the clams mantle were nearly iridescent in all the beige and grey bottom.

  7. Hi Wade and Chris, happy to have stumbled ( floated ) across your adventures. Sensational. You mentioned overlaying satellite images onto/into your navigation system. Could you please share how you do that or perhaps a previous link/discussion. Cheers, Brendon.

    • Hi Brendon, I will be writing a full magazine article about this, but essentially we use OpenCPN and SatPlanet to download sat images from various sources in MBTile format about regions we want to explore and overlay them onto our navigation software. So keep following and all will be revealed! Cheers – Chris.

  8. Oh behemoth clams! – one of your favourites. Oh, you are really having the time of your lives aren’t you?
    It all looks so beautiful Chris and Wade!
    Missing you both (and a tiny bit jealous)! Lol

    • Hi Lisa – compensating for months of frustration with boat maintenance! Anui is behaving nicely now so enjoying the Reef as much as we can.

  9. The gigantic clam is amazing–I am not sure I would have truly appreciated its massive side without the shot of Wade next to it. Although I always love your shots, Chris, of the brilliant turquoise water, it was the final image that took my breath away, with all of different layers of water, land, mist, and sky. Wow!

    • Thanks Mike. You are right,it is hard to appreciate the size of clams or even fish until you see a person or familiar object next to them…
      Mourilyan is a spectacular place, especially for sunsets. The inter land looks magnificent. We really only go there for protection from strong winds as there is nothing much to do there and you can’t swim for fear of crocs!

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