Using buoy moorings Townsville to Lizard Island.
Prevent coral damage—improve safety—access diving & snorkelling hot spots near population centres.
When cruising FNQ, everybody wants to spend some time in the water—on the reef. Whether it’s scuba, hookah, free diving, or snorkelling, we all love to experience that unique outer reef world close-up. The biggest impediment is the daunting task of manoeuvring and anchoring near coral. Whether you are planning your trip or out and about; if you are within 30-40nm of population centres, all the best anchoring and diving locations are covered with private and a smattering of public moorings, so: do you use an available mooring, anchor if there is space, or just give up and go somewhere quieter.
Hopping from one Public mooring to another is an ideal way of visiting the reef.
The links to the GBRMPA maps are the updated 2021 versions. Not only have they updated the maps they have an improved website which shows the coordinates of where to locate public moorings. Plus they have taken an active step by adding public moorings to many key sites.
- To get the full GBRMP info. on moorings, Innisfail to Lizard Island click here
- Extended GBRMP map and detailed moorinh map Townsville to Lizard Island click here
- To get the full GBRMPA info. in the Whitsundays click here
Moorings located near to the coast are regularly used and are easy to track down; if occupied, there’s usually reasonable anchoring locations nearby.
The moorings further from the coast are not so easy, but exploring clearer waters calls for the effort. Recreational boats use these and so do some commercial operators who provided they have public on board are permitted to use them under the same conditions (This can be frustrating when you see private mooring close by not being used). Public moorings are usually two to four hours, enough time for diving activities; if there at 5 pm you are entitled to stay overnight. there is a few 24hr moorings which can make for a relxing day stay.
Compliant private moorings need to have a reference number marked on the buoy. The mooring register website is:
The site is not user-friendly but with perseverance you can usually view the permit, and in theory, be able to contact the permittee (owner) to request usage permission.
The difficulties are: many moorings are unmarked, or if they are, the contact details on the register are often obscure. But if you can do a little research you will usually track down who you need to talk to. Where we have been able to contact the permittees, they have been co-operative, and planning has worked well for us. Their main concerns are: is your boat suitable for their mooring—will you trash the area—will you interfere with their needs.
When out in the blue you will seldom have phone or Internet reception; however as only a few companies own most moorings, it is sometimes possible to radio a nearby commercial vessel and ask to use a vacant mooring. You may get a helpful response, or you may be ignored and be given the runaround.
When you are unable to contact the permittee and are on the spot needing to decide whether or not to use that vacant private mooring or to anchor, you will need to balance several factors:
*It is an offence to damage Coral on the GBR.
* You are entitled to reef access and be able to keep your vessel and crew as safe as possible.
* legally you need permission to use a private mooring as the ground tackle is privately owned.
In at the advent of a dispute over a private mooring, it’s a civil matter between you and the permittee.
A word from GBRMPA
“We would encourage people to be aware of reef protection markers that indicate areas where you can’t anchor and follow responsible reef practices for snorkelling and mooring on the Reef.
Some of the most interesting Public Moorings in detail:
Wheeler Reef — Plenty of swing room, The Reef was decimated by Cyclone Yasi in 2010, and the glorious coral garden was wiped out. There was still reasonable deep diving(2015). Beware of strong tidal currents at times.
Miln Reef — Plenty of swing room. The buoy is well away from the reef’s edge — some impressive coral heads (2016), if you are prepared to cover a wide area and the reef’s edge, it has nice snorkelling. Modest tidal current runs at times.
Flynn Reef — Plenty of swing room. A very busy reef for commercial charter operators with ten private moorings, several players regularly also use the public mooring. If that’s the case when you arrive, it’s worth a radio call to one of the commercial vessels, and with a bit of luck, you may be directed to an unused private mooring. This reef is unsuitable for anchoring. Some excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities
Norman Reef— Plenty of swing room. There’s an interesting section of reef about 30m to the north of the mooring, where nudibranch and flatworms are usually plentiful.
Michaelmas Cay — The front mooring is close to the reef and if the breeze turns north be careful not to drift into the coral. This location is very well protected even in unyielding winds. There is interesting snorkelling and a pleasant beach.(access is restricted to 9.30am to 3 pm to minimise interference to the 1000’s of nesting terns). The many tourist boats depart about 3 pm leaving a peaceful overnight anchorage.
The following four moorings are close to Cairns and are popular with recreational boats. You will find suitable anchorage locations over sand nearby if your desired mooring is in use.
Some moorings near the coast
Green Island — We like to treat ourselves to Ice creams at the resort on the Island 🙂
Vlasoff Cay — A cute little sand cay. Take a cut lunch and enjoy the tranquillity, except when an annoying helicopter lands.
Upolu Cay — A sweet little sand cay usually which becomes exposed at about 3/4 tide and becomes a beautiful spot for a picnic and swim. Some reasonable diving and snorkelling on the north and east side of the reef.
Sudbury Cay — A beautiful sand cay not far from Fitzroy Island. A fantastic spot to take the kids. In past years it has washed over at high tide but this year has seen its first sign of vegetation on its high point. The sunsets looking over to the coast are amazing. A current runs through the mooring area.
On the way to Lizard Island
There is quite a few moorings at Hope Island and a few on the outer reef but Mackay reef is a stand out and if the moorings are in use its an easy anchorage near by.
Mackay Reef — definitely a favourite. A superb all day sand cay, great snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing. Easily exceccible and giving good protection frpm the trades and easterlies. we spent a couple of weeks here in the spring and summer of 2021/ 22 and we had fun doing a modest photo shoot here. To see the below and above of this beautiful reef and cay click here.
Further North around lizard island there are the following four public moorings:
Cod hole—These moorings give excellent protection from SE trade winds but are not suitable for overnight when currents can swing a vessel onto the reef during some tide and wind conditions.
Opportunities to get up close and personal with big Potato Cod. But don’t try feeding them your fresh fishy catch while under water—when around food they grow bigger and bumpier, and if you survive their attention there is a risk of getting your fingers bitten off by a reef shark! It was good diving, at least up till the last cyclone and the recent coral bleaching in March 2016. It’s still probably worth a dive–watch the current if you decide to swim further out into the passage.
Lizard Island Mermaid Bay — the buoys are easy to find, but are only suitable during SE trades. The coral was trashed first by cyclone Ida in2014, then Nathan then severely bleached 2016/17, so the diving is now poor.
Lizard Island Mrs Watsons Bay —The anchoring area is all sand, so the mooring seldom gets used, but it can be handy when you arrive.