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Reef Report for Thursday, November 30, 2000

Shipwrecks Bring Wonder, Tragedy

There were high adventures last week when members of the Nautilus Club went down to Townsville to dive the Yongala, a famous sunken ship that has drawn divers worldwide for decades.

The SS Yongala floundered during a cyclone on March 23, 1911 just off the coast of Townsville, where it sank to its eternal grave. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises Its top deck is approximately 49 feet below the ocean's surface and the hull lies at 98 feet in a bed of sand. It is listed as one of the top 10 wreck dives of the world. The diversity of fish life in and surrounding the dive site is spectacular. On one dive you can see Eagle Rays, Bull Rays, Giant Trevally, Wrasse, Queensland Grouper, schools of Mangrove Jacks, and more. Add to this the turtles, sea snakes, nudibranchs, and the occasional Tiger or Bull shark and you have the elements of a great dive! A kaleidoscope of soft corals adds dazzling color to the rich backdrop of sea life.

Nautilus Dive Club member Chris Cameron reported on the Yongala expeditions, saying that the club used Townsvilleísí official dive boat MV Hero to head out to the wreck. MV Hero is a weather permitting boat, which means that it only goes out to the Yongala if conditions are fair. It carries a maximum of 14 passengers, making it a very comfortable and pleasant trip.

The dive boat departed at midnight and took seven hours to steam to the wreck. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises The first dive of the morning was an introductory exploration of the Yongala. The ship is a non-penetrable wreck. This means that divers are not allowed inside. Chris enthused that the fish life was abundant with zillions of coral sweepers inhabiting the wreck. Two resident QLD gropers (one was reported to be the size of a V-Dub!!!) cruised the wreck very nonchalantly, oblivious to the divers. Boat artifacts were abundant, including bottles and light shades lying on the ocean floor. Chris said the night dives were amazing and a little eerie, especially when a sole Manta Ray glided on the edge of the diversí light. Magic.

A more recent shipwreck on Sudbury Reef has stirred up some fresh controversy, not to mention quite a bit of damage to the reef. Local marine biologist and underwater filmmaker Stuart Ireland from Calypso Productions was recently granted permission to video Sudbury Reef after the highly publicized excavation of Bunga Teratai Satu. Hereís what he had to say about the sunken vesselís impact on the reefs.

"As I held on tightly to the manta board towed behind, I went in search of the scar. Even in the poor visibility there was no mistaking the spot where two days prior the 25-thousand-ton Bunga Teratai Satu had come aground. For a very anxious two weeks I prayed, probably along with most of the Cairns community, for the safe removal of this vessel, whose poor navigation ended up leaving a gouge in the reef roughly the size of half an Olympic pool. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises The deep V-shaped groove in the coral had small hand-size pieces of the vesselís steel hull embedded in the rubble. Small fractured bommies lined the side of the main channel, giving the reef a moonscape appearance."

"But the area is not devoid of marine life. Schools of Surgeon Fish and Parrot Fish fed on newly settled algae, though the coral to the sides of the wreck site remains cloaked in silt that has settled from the (excavation) explosion of the bommies. It will be interesting to monitor the resettlement of this area. One thing is for certain. Despite this damage, the reef was quite lucky that the damage is quite contained. It could have been a lot, lot worse. Letís hope this doesnít happen again."

Out on the Cairns reefs, things have been business as usual. Divers on Passions of Paradise reported seeing lots of turtles and White Tip reef sharks this week. Divers were also lucky enough to come across a large school of Hump Headed Parrot Fish. Certified divers found a large Moray Eel in 14 metres of water while diving at The Wall. Visibility was 12 metres, with winds at around 20 knots.

Skipper Russel on board Kalinda reported similar conditions on the southern reefs, with winds at 15-20 knots and 12 metres visibility. The weather people predict isolated showers and southeasterly winds to be 15 to 20 knots.

(C) Pro Dive Cairns The weekly reef report is written by Sue-Anne Chapman of Pro Dive Cairns, who compiles them from the many conversations she has with divers, dive instructors, captains, and others in the Cairns dive community. The report is published weekly in the Cairn Post, the local daily paper and appears here thanks to the courtesy of Pro Dive Cairns.

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