Feb 6

Amazing Shark Encounters in the Coral Sea

Ever want to dive with sharks?!  Osprey Reef is rated in the world’s top 10 shark dive destinations and now, we know why!

Positioned 150km off Queensland’s north-eastern coastline in Australia, this remote coral reef offers many fabulous dive sites and spectacular scenery.  Due to its location, scuba divers must book a liveaboard trip from Cairns to be able to explore it.

The 4-Day Spirit of Freedom Coral Sea and Ribbons trip includes a low-level scenic flight from Cairns to Lizard Island (stunning!) and up to 15 dives, including night dives and a shark feed at Osprey Reef’s famous ‘North Horn’.Do the Dragon

I have always been very nervous about participating in a shark feed scuba dive.  To me, there is something fundamentally wrong about being in the water, bringing down a cage filled with tuna heads to lure in the predators of the deep for lunch, while we happily take photos.

I take it all back: this was an amazing, life changing experience!  The shark feed was dive 9 on day 3 of the trip.  The January weather had been particular kind in the Coral Sea and we had already visited Vema and Shark Reef, with their 1,000m wall drop-offs, before tracking north to Osprey Reef.

As Advanced Divers, we had descended to 38.8m in the deep blue water, where visibility was over 50meters and had watched as White-tipped, Black-tipped and Silver-tipped Reef Sharks swam along the wall with us.  Not to say it was becoming passé, these creatures deserve total respect at all times, but we were ‘comfortable’ at being in the water with them.

Our first dive that day at ‘North Horn’ was at 7.20am. It was like being in an underwater fernery.  Orange, red, yellow, pink and purple corals branched off the wall, creating a haven for the hundreds of gem-like Fairy Basslets who schooled here.  The divers in front of us were holding hands, a cute picture but for the White-tipped Reef Shark that followed closely in their wake.

Back on the boat we feasted on bacon with baked scrambled eggs and pancakes with maple syrup: everyone was eager for the next dive briefing.  Trip Director Nick Leigh gathered the divers to explain the procedures of the shark feed dive, including the need for all of us to remain still during the feed with no fast movements.

Shark Diving He was clear and confident in his delivery of information and we were keen to head over to what I now refer to as ‘shark stadium’.  Descending the mooring line, we saw a school of at least 100 large Bumphead Parrotfish cruising the wall.  Turning left, we followed them to a natural underwater amphitheatre where a large coral bommie, which rises to about 16m underwater, is surrounded by the curving reef wall, which plateaus for divers to ‘seat’ themselves on the ledge and crevices.

Nick checks to see that each diver is ‘OK’ before signaling to the tender above to lower the cage into the water, with its tuna head cargo.  Pending conditions, this dive happens each week and the sharks seem to know the drill, gathering around the bommie.  Visibility is at least 30m and while the cage descends, the sharks bustle in excitement.

Once the cage is in position, Nick releases the door and tuna heads on a line.  The feeding frenzy begins and I’m amazed to see two large Potato Cod getting amongst the action.  It probably lasts around three minutes and we’re all just sitting there watching and being ‘WOW’.

Once the feed is complete, Nick signals to the tender above and the cage is removed from the water.  Only once it is completely gone and the sharks have begun to disperse, do we receive the all clear to continue our dive.  Many swarm to the bommie eager to find a shark tooth souvenir; instead they find a large Potato Cod, bemused by their appearance and attention.

Osprey Reef delivered many amazing diving moments during this trip.  We saw large schools of Trevally, Moray Eels, too many sharks to count, several large Potato Cod, including one that was happy to sit in my lap, Eagle Rays, Loggerhead, Green and Hawkesbill Turtles and so many different types of tropical reef fish.

The Australian Government is currently expanding its protection to include large tracts of the Coral Sea, which is great news, as this remote natural paradise is an important breeding ground for many marine residents.

Spirit of Freedom has Advanced Ecotourism accreditation through Ecotourism Australia, so you know you are diving with someone who cares about the environment and is committed to its protection too.  The luxury boat has cabin accommodation (Quad, Double and Ocean View) which is serviced daily, air-conditioned interior and spacious exterior sun deck and dive deck.

Our January 2012 trip experienced perfect weather.  Spirit of Freedom is flexible in itinerary, choosing dive locations to maximize diver experience, pending conditions.  As result, this trip started with two dives on the world famous Cod Hole and ended with a full day on the remote Bougainville Reef.

The whole trip was amazing and life changing!


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