Marion Reef … Coral Sea
Getting under Marion’s skirt.
Marion Reef is 400km east of the Whitsunday coast, its 40km long by 20km wide, dominated by a deep lagoon and surrounded by very clear waters. It is a perfect horseshoe shape with three barren sand cays that help to provide shelter from the persistent SE trade winds. The trip can be broken up into two equal parts. The first is within the GBR where there are many places to shelter before undertaking the second and final leg into the Pacific’s easterly swell.
We enjoyed incredible diving and fishing a few years back. Things haven’t changed much since our trip, so it’s worth recounting our adventure and providing a little information to those contemplating a visit.
* Although fishing restrictions may apply in the future if a proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve goes ahead. Check if you intend heading out that way.
Marion Reef crew.
This was a boys trip. Firstly there was my son Andrew who at 14 was already an accomplished scuba diver (far superior to his father of course). Then there were young mates Matty and Clinton who had previously accompanied me on a coral sea sojourn; amazing fishos and divers—& there was nothing they couldn’t fix up or cook up.
Through the GBR…the first leg
The first day we made our way out to near the entrance of the Hydrographic passage. Bugatti Reef lagoon was a comfortable stopover for the first night. Clinton caught his first GT of the trip, and we became friends with an 11 ft Tawney nurse shark. It was very placid swimming right next to us..superb. Then on to White Tip Reef for two more days while we waited for the lumpy seas to abate. It was a top spot for reef fishing with sweetlips jumping onto the hook in procession— often two at a time. Excellent diving there also in a very sheltered reef cutaway featuring a beautiful coral garden full of life.
Cruising to the Marion Reef…the second leg
When the trade winds poised to reload, we ventured into the swell. Leaving White Tip Reef mid-afternoon and reaching the western side of the reef next morning. We were just a little brain rattled and jaded, but the ocean was crystal, and we were cruising along the drop-off; all was too good to be resting—out went our lures.
Bang! A marlin hits..then another, then another, leaping out the water and fishtailing along the surface. All about 40-50 kg and lots of fun, to make it easy we used barbless hooks, and the boys had the fun of the fight without the hard ending.
Marion’s fabulous fishing
The crew worked energetically at the fishing the whole time we were away, especially casting for GT’s. Mat caught a monster off Carola cay, photographed and released 20 meter’s away on the other side; and it immediately chases some resting bait fish! Gees they are tough. We also had an exciting time by trawling lures around the outer edge. One day we topped 30 hookups including yellowfin tuna, wahoo, giant barracuda, a 100kg marlin, even silver tip sharks —which chased down the lures at 8 knots!
Marion Reef sand cays.
The Marion reefs have three permanent cays and a few drifters.
Our first anchorage was at Carola Cay. Placid booby birds were plentiful, and an automated B.O.M weather station was adding a nice touch.
Pagent Cay was our second choice; It is 300me long, narrow and flat and combined with the reef gave excellent protection. An old wreck off the end added to the exhilarating feeling of total isolation.
Even anchored in only 4-7 meters of water the fishing and diving off the back of the boat was superb.
Brodie cay is on the south-west reef and quite small, it is not a comfortable anchorage for overnight.
Marion Reef diving.
We dived most days, sometimes twice. Our overall impression was: excellent visibility ( up to 45me on the outer walls), mega numbers of sea snakes, and scores of large gray and silver tips ( fat and plenty around the 8ft length). On our first wall dive we counted almost 30 sharks, and if we wandered into a socializing group, they got quite agitated, which is something I had never experienced before. We did most of the wall dives by anchoring in 40m and diving two at a time while the other two kept an eye on the boat to make sure it neither ended up on the reef or became unattached and drifted out to sea. Usually, the bottom fell to 400-600m not far behind the boat, so we had hoped for a glimpse of Tigers, Hammerheads, Marlin and so forth but it wasn’t to be. Inside the lagoon, there are many bommies with plenty of critters and lots of marine life through the channels. The corals we saw were healthy, including large gorgonians and lovely soft corals. We enjoyed our diving, but in reality, we just scratched the surface of a massive reef system.
My scary moment.
Each time we dragged our fishing lures over a particular deep isolated peak, they were voraciously attacked by Silvertip sharks, Marlin, Giant Barracuda, and mysterious black shadows. It was like a magnet for blood-curdling feeding frenzies. Andy, and I decided if we were to find the likes of big Tiger or Giant Hammerhead sharks this would be the place. We were excited as we caught the anchor on the top of the reef 25m down and kitted up. Then the other boys pointed out that there was no cover for a diver midstream in case of aggressive shark behavior, plus this seemed a dark, ominous place where everything encountered had been big, ugly and aggressive. For the first time, nervous trepidation started creeping over me; I’ll never forget that feeling. I began to de-kit when my 14-year-old son looked me in the eye, “ Dad, we came here to do big things, so let’s do it.” Shit, he was as calm as a cucumber. We jumped in — an uneventful dive with no problems! Franklin D Rosevelt was right. “ I had nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Marion Sea Snakes
This part of the Coral Sea supports one of the biggest populations on the planet. Every dive at Marion Reef was a sea snake dive, from the reef edge to the shallow lagoon. What a joy it was to swim with these very curious serpents.
They feed on fish, eels, shrimps, crabs or worms depending on the species. The snake bites its prey and injects venom with its sharp fangs. The fast-acting venom stuns or kills the victim allowing it to be consumed safely.
In the past, it was thought that their small mouths couldn’t penetrate a wetsuit. This may be true for a few species, but now it is considered that the majority of snakes have a mouth large enough to infiltrate a 3mm wetsuit. The main reason that they don’t pose a threat to divers is that they are not aggressive, and would rather flee than bite something they are not going to eat. They will bite to defend themselves, but even then they rarely inject venom. Most deaths attributed to sea snake bites have occurred to fishermen in Asia pulling them out of their nets.
The best way to avoid risk is not to provoke them. They are placid creatures, but they do have an inquisitive nature, and I have had them wrapped around my legs and peering at their reflection in my camera lens. Incredible experiences to look back on.
* For more of our images of the Marion Reef and Coral Sea areas click HERE.
Marion Reef journeys roundup
The winds had been a consistent 20 – 25 knots but coinciding with our fresh food running low a glorious weather gap opened. Having used very little fuel up to date and with a following gentle sea, I decided to gun it back to the mainland. (The boys would have been quite happy staying for another couple of weeks living on fresh fish and cans). We arrived at Laguna Keys in a mere 20 hours. What a grand time, 17 days in paradise and what an excellent team of ocean enthusiasts the crew had been.
To view more of our cruising stories about the Australian Coral Sea click below:
Diamond islets click here
Flinders reefs click here
Herald cays click here
Magdelaine Reefs click here
Willis Islets click here
Coringa Islets click here
Osprey Reef click here
Bougainville Atoll click here
Ashmore Reef click here
Lihou Reef Atoll click here
This is a very interesting post. It looks absolutely wonderful: diving and fishing in these waters must be great. The snake and shark aspect, however… I’m not sure I’d enjoy having a big snake wrapped around my leg, even if you tell me they are not aggressive. The fact that their venom is one of the most powerful in nature does not help.
I really enjoyed reading your account and looking at your great pictures. Thanks for sharing.
Thx, Jean-Marie. It was a while ago but a great time to look back on. Especially time with my son. Glad you enjoyed the read 🙂
Hi Robin, Great stories eh, the Snakes are as you say inquisitive, but a lot of people tend to forget the “Respect” aspect of any excursion into an animals domain. Treat them with respect and we all live a little longer.
While on a dive trip into the WhitSunday’s we often saw Sea Snakes on the surface, i was told that they can be dangerous on the surface and to stay well clear of them, underwater they were as you describe, any truth in what i was told ?
Take it easy and remember that fear is what sometimes keeps us alive.
Nice to hear from the photographic maestro.
I haven’t seen too many snakes around lately. Not sure about whether they are more dangerous on the surface. Perhaps they may feel more vulnerable so it could be right. Good point about the fear, I am getting a bit long in the tooth to be taking too many risks now anyhow 🙂
p.s. I am having macro withdrawals since you stopped posting your incredible critter images on Flickr 🙂
G’day from the Sunshine coast mate.
My name is James and I was lucky enough to travel to Marion on the Elizabeth E 2 as a deckhand/divemaster in 2007/08. Reading your stories really took me back as I experienced those things and a couple of my own which I have held dear ever since but have never met anyone else that has dared to venture so far out!!
Thanks for taking me back I hope you have had more amazing adventures since with many more to come.
PS. I really liked your sons attitude about going for big things. He was spot on.
King regards. James Ellis.
Wonderful to hear from you James. Experiencing the Coral Sea atolls is something I hold dear and it was a special time to be with my son.
Its special to receive a comment from another who has experienced the same unique place. Happy diving.