Marked difference between Ribbon Reefs 7 & 10

It is disturbing to observe marked differences between Ribbon Reefs. We are not sure what helps one reef recover and the next just a few miles on look terribly sad. But there was a marked difference between #7 which was in recovery, and #10 which was barren. We will have visited three of the 10 Ribbon Reefs and overall our verdict on the state of the reef is not encouraging.

Why we stop at some reefs and not others

There are 10 official Ribbon Reefs, that string of long but narrow reefs on the very edge of the Great Barrier Reef offshore of the region running from Cooktown to Lizard Island. Some of you may well wonder how and why we choose to stop at some reefs and not others. Well, for a start we have a limited weather window and haven’t got the opportunity to visit the entire series in the one trip. So we let reports from other cruisers or dive guides influence our choices.

But something else comes into play which is crucial for us: safe anchoring or mooring availability. There are a few spots where one or two public moorings are available. If they are vacant, we use these. But if there are taken, we look for a safe anchorage. We study the satellite maps in advance, look for a wide enough strip of sand to anchor in, in a depth less than 10 meters, with a 40m radius clear of obstacles. Not all of the Ribbon Reefs meet our ‘requirements’. Additionally, we like to be close to outlying bommies for snorkeling as these tend to be in better condition than the leeside edge of the reef.

One of the additional challenges is that the seemingly sandy bottom on the charts is actually coarse crushed coral which does not provide great holding, and the seafloor drops down sharply to over 20m. If the anchor does not bite quickly, you have little chance of staying put.

Ribbon Reef #7

At Ribbon #7, after a few attempts at setting the anchor, it held. It was a particularly nice anchorage. As you can see from the aerial below, the boat is floating in 20m, but we dropped the anchor in 6m of water and laid out about 40m of chain.

It was reasonably windy – 14-18 knots southeast – but we managed an aerial shot to capture the aqua colours and the scalloping shape of Ribbon 7.

Ribbon Reef #7 looking south
A little higher and closer!

Just when we thought that there was little hope left for the health of the Ribbon Reefs, Ribbon #7 surprised us. This part of our post is a tale of recovery.

Wade getting the dinghy tied to the reef, while we get ready for a snorkel

With low tide mid afternoon, we went for our snorkel not long after lunch so the light would be good enough and we would avoid the late afternoon fish feeding time. We dinghied over to a couple of large bommies and slowly made our way around each one. What we found was better than we had seen for a while – not great, but some recovery and lots of fish activity. The visibility was variable, depending on which side of the bommie we were on and how much current was flowing.

We are observing that a lot of encrusting coral as well as soft corals such as sarcophytons are leading the recovery, colonizing the substrate. In places a kind of garden forms, there is competition for space with different species jostling for real estate. Some species act like space invaders. In other areas the damage is evident with bare substrate and rubble.

Rubbery space invaders
Soft coral colony
Competition for real estate between lobophyton (rubbery soft coral) and encrusting hard coral
A bright colourful patch of Acropora, a fast growing coral

Fish life was abundant, with the usual schools of Steephead Parrotfish, Drummers, Humpnose Unicornfish cruising along at a fast pace, excited about something! We kept an eye out for sharks but none were seen. Also about were the smaller and prettier Moorish Idols, Angelfish, Butterflyfish grazing on the coral and algae.

Regal Angelfish
Ornate Butterflyfish
Moorish Idol

Crinoids were plentiful in various shades of black, green, orange and red. These are always so attractive. Did you know that those beautiful plume-like stems are actually feeding arms with feathery pinnules that are spread wide to gather nutrients in the water?

Green Crinoid with visiting sergeant fish
Red, green and black crinoid colony

Wade and Chris happened to be together when Wade spotted a coral trout and speared it. Here are a few shots of the catch. Typically after spearing, Wade swims back to the dinghy keeping the fish out of the water. We call it “Fish on a stick” – nobody likes to share the catch with sharks! This coral trout made another lovely meal, prepared as ceviche, a new flavour sensation for Maree and Murray.

Wade showing Chris his catch
Coral Trout just speared
“Fish on a stick”

Brief stop at Ribbon Reef #10 then onto Lizard Island

With the southeast picking up between 15 and 20 knots, we had a nice sail to the top end of Ribbon Reef #10 but it was choppy and windy when we reached our anchorage.

Anchoring at Ribbon #10

The strengthening southeast promised a bouncy night. We anchored, had lunch, then decided to check the condition of the nearby bommies, jumping overboard in just our bathers. If it looked reasonable, we would have a snorkel later in the afternoon at low tide and stay the night. Otherwise we would head off to Lizard Island, only 15nm on. The verdict was not favourable. Although there was a good selection of fish, the reef was barren, one of the worst we have seen on this trip… not worth the hassle of an uncomfortable overnight anchorage. So we set off again under screecher towards Lizard Island.

Bound for Lizard Island

Our next post will be focused on this iconic destination, where we intend to stay for a few days. See you there soon!

13 thoughts on “Marked difference between Ribbon Reefs 7 & 10

  1. I’m pleased to see that the reefs are improving, Mother Nature heals their wounds. 🙂

    • Hello Ann, random is a good way of describing how the reef health appears to us. But we keep looking for the nice finds and learn from what we see.

  2. Beautiful pics. Love your fish on a stick …. you eat so well from your vast pantry …

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