Hoping or wishing?

When you see the fringing reefs around the Whitsunday Islands it is easy to feel dismay at the state of the battered corals and sparse fish population. It is a little better on the outer reef, but not a lot. And you wonder: Is it recovering or is it the last hooray? Are we hoping or wishing?

In this week’s post, we finish our tour of the Whitsundays, then off we go to Little Black Reef. It is a longer post with lots of photos, so you know the drill: make yourself comfortable and enjoy cruising and diving with us!

Manta Ray Bay

From Cateran Bay, where we left you at our last post, we sailed to Manta Ray Bay at the top of Hook Island, spending two days on a public mooring, sheltered by the tall hills from strong winds. The visibility underwater was a bit ordinary, which accounts for some photos being a little hazy. On the first dive, it was sunny enough to take underwater shots without strobes. On the second day, with very grey skies and drizzling rain at times, not to mention the desire to dive down deeper, we had to get the serious gear out! Here is what we recorded over the two days.

  • Crown of Thorn damage
  • Crown of Thorn Starfish
  • Pinstripe Butterflyfish
  • Crinoid
  • Spiky Soft Coral
  • Finger soft coral
  • Crinoid
  • Coral Trout
  • Giant Clam
  • Large porite

A bright episode was when we were visited by a gang of batfish. It was great fun getting underwater shots from the sugar scoops at the back of the boat. There were five or six of them; they came close, nibbled our fingers, were very social and photogenic! You can’t help but smile when you see them. Here they are:

Fun with over/under image

Back to Tongue Bay and Hill Inlet

With a reprieve in the wind inshore and sunshine returning, we thought we’d motor around to Tongue Bay for a change of scenery and just enough time to download our emails underway, given we have been in internet detox for a while and were going to be again for days!

Tongue Bay, with Anui the furthest boat in

At near low tide, we walked up to the Hill Inlet lookout. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves in glorious sunshine, a great opportunity for some panoramic shots with the Canon camera, just in case it was too windy to launch the drone from the beach. But it was not! So Chris flew the beast briefly to get the shots she missed last time. Once you have done a reconnaissance flight, and understand the lay of the land, you are better able to compose the panoramic image you have in your mind’s eye: the arc of the Whitehaven Beach, the full view of the entrance to the inlet, meanders of the stream and the sight of adjacent Tongue Bay, with Anui in the picture. Those colours may seem unreal, but that is how it really looks! It is the most breathtaking spot in the Whitsundays. You can see why it lures us to return time and time again.

Hill Inlet from the lookout with the Canon camera
Drone shot of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach
Panoramic of Hill Inlet and Tongue Bay with Anui in the picture

We could not resist taking Bill up Hill Inlet in the dinghy. With high tide at the end of the day, we started our little expedition mid-afternoon. It was great fun zooming around the bends and going as far upstream as the tide allowed, until we bottomed out with the dinghy a few times too many. There was talk of crocodiles hiding in the mangrove. We did see something jumping out of the water near one of the sandbanks we were stopped at. Bill thought it was a baby croc; if it was, mum never appeared, so all was well!

The sandbank we stopped at

We flew the drone for a look and see from above, and nearly lost the dinghy which had been pushed off the sandbank by the wind while we were not looking! Wade had to sacrifice himself and get wet to recover it. Nobody else volunteered for the task!

Soggy Wadie has recovered the dinghy!

The views of the meanders and vast expanse of mangrove from up high were fascinating. We so like seeing our surroundings from the sky!

Little Black Reef

One of the destinations we dearly hoped to bring our friend to was Little Black Reef. We must have all been hoping and wishing very hard because we got our chance to head out… not for long nor in ideal conditions mind you, but we had three days of moderate southeasterlies (12 to 18 knots), which was fine anchored inside a lagoon. It was enough to give Bill the experience of brisk sails, the spectacular arrival at a reef at low tide in bright sunshine, a taste of this serene place for a few days of freediving, fishing and discovery.

One of the special moments was seeing whales inside the lagoon on two of the days. The first day we saw a single one with very distinctive markings and battle scars. It huffed and puffed as we were wishing it to come close to Anui for a better look. But it kept its distance.

Battle scars on a lone humpback whale
Wade up the mast for a better view

The next day four of them were frolicking right next to the boat: two juveniles and two adults.

Here is a gallery of this amazing encounter.

And of course we snorkeled. As usual we dinghied across the channel separating Little Black and Block Reefs and enjoyed diving along the wall, picking a different spot each day. There were large amounts of fish, including schooling trevallies and stripey snappers. The coral although very damaged by a mix of bleaching, storms and crown of thorns had pockets of reasonable cover and variety, and we saw our favourite creatures like the crinoids, the Christmas tree worms and several types of Gorgonian fans. Wade had fun spearfishing and caught us a trevally. Here is a selection of images in a slideshow.

  • Gorgonian Fan
  • Whitetip Shark
  • Brain Corals
  • Goldline Butterflyfish
  • Crinoid
  • Giant Clam
  • Spike cheek anemonefish
  • Spike Cheek Anemonefish
  • Tunicates
  • Crown of Thorn Starfish
  • Tunicate colony
  • School of Trevallies
  • School of Trevallies
  • School of Trevallies
  • Gorgonian Fan
  • Sea Fan
  • Oyster and Christmas Tree Worm
  • Crown of Thorn preying on Acropora
  • Giant Clam
  • Christmas Tree Worm
  • Spiky Soft Coral
  • Porites
  • Large porite
  • Echinopora

We are now back at Airlie Beach. The experience of living on board for a while and cruising around these beautiful places have hopefully inspired Bill to set off on his own adventures on his catamaran Zed and also acted as a ‘reset’ for him. He is leaving us today after spending nearly two weeks with us.

We will be doing the usual reprovisioning and laundry chores, then it will be time to move on and leave the Whitsundays. Stay tuned for details of our cruising plans in our next post!

20 thoughts on “Hoping or wishing?

  1. So many beautiful photos, guys! The bleaching is so bad, I really hope these reefs can recover with time. The inlet and beach are very beautiful, and I would love to take a slow ride up the river like that! Be safe! 🇦🇺

    • Hi John, we hope so too but really wonder as the deterioration seems to be accelerating. There are still beautiful places to enjoy and we try and show the best we see.

  2. Reading your post is the most delightful way to start my Friday, Chris! Fabulous photos – both under the water and from the air. What a magic encounter with the whales! Thank you for sharing. So hoping that the reef can recover, given time. Just wondering if the numbers of the Crown of Thorns is still ever increasing? Is there a program in place to eradicate them (still)?

    • Hi Jan, pleased you like the post. There is a program in place to cull the Crowns of Thorns. We report these to the Marine Park Authorities through the app Eye On The Reef. When they are at outbreak level they send a crew to kill them. The numbers we have seen this time are not at that level but concerning enough to alert the GBRMPA.

  3. ‘Tis said a picture is worth a thousand words. How true in this case and how sad ! Looking at your wonderful photos I am wishing but do not dare to hope ! Shall repost to friends so they can see both the good and the bad !! Thank you as always . . . and a big pat and rub to Bengie . . .

    • Thank you for the repost, Eha. We try to look for beauty but it is getting harder to find underwater. The damage at the Reef is accelerating and it is heart breaking.

  4. Fantastic drone shots of Hill Inlet Chris. I have to get a bit more courage to venture higher when I can. So sad about the state of Little Black Reef as we shared some great snorkeling out there a few years back. The deterioration has happened so quickly. Loved those Spinecheek Anemonefish pics. How are you finding the strobes? Using them shallow as well? Or just deeper.

    • Hi Amanda! Yes with the drone, the key is to fly high and far back from your main subject to get the sweeping views. It took me a few goes to get this right and it is daunting if the breeze is up or you know choppers and planes are about like at Whitehaven. Normally it is not an issue though. Remember you can tilt the camera too to compose your shot.

      Little Black is no longer what we knew and loved. But as you do yourself you can still find the nice pockets of healthier coral or gorgeous critters. The strobes are for deep dives (6 to 12m) or grey days. They are a bit awkward to dive with and backscatter becomes more of an issue. You can minimise this by shooting in macro instead of wide angle. On shallow dives and bright days I do without.

  5. Your awesome wildlife and underwater flora pics never cease to bring a smile Chris! I’ve often wondered about salties in the reef area. There were millions in Nhulunbuy, too risky to venture into the water. Hopefully, they keep to the mainland mangroves …. happy sailing!

    • Thanks Elgar for the nice feedback. No crocs at the reef but we were not sure about Hill Inlet in the Whitsundays. We never saw slides on the banks so suspect the big splash might have been a fish, but we did not go searching!

  6. I loved the contrast between your wonderful drone images, Chris, and those shot with your Canon camera. In some cases your could set similar perspectives, but in many cases the drone lets you see things in a way that would be impossible with a DSLR. I love too the bright colorful underwater shots and your encounters with whales was super special–not exactly something that you could predict.

    • Hi Mike – as we are on our way back from three weeks in the Coral Sea we are picking up all our messages. Thanks for your comment on the comparison between drone and SLR shots. Always trying to discover and share the amazing perspective of aerials!

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