Best for: manta rays
If you’re looking specifically for a manta ray encounter, Lady Elliot Island is the best place for it on the whole Great Barrier Reef (the ‘Reef’). Even if you’re not, being a small coral cay surrounded by fringing reef just 10km from the continental shelf, Lady Elliot is still a great place to dive and snorkel.
The distance from the mainland means the coral reefs are in pristine condition – great for snorkellers, and proximity to the shelf means encounters with pelagics like mantas and whales are very common. It’s also home to nesting turtles, so snorkellers will encounter turtles even snorkelling the shallow fringing reefs.
Snorkelling and Diving
Diving from Lady Elliot couldn’t be easier: meet at the dive shop in the resort, load your gear onto the truck, (they have plenty of gear to hire if you don’t have your own), drive the short distance across the island, gear up from the back of the truck and walk onto the boat.
The boat trip to any dive site is just a couple of minutes. If you’re just wanting to snorkel, you’ll find the colourful coral reefs straight off the beach.
Maori Wrasse Bommie
Maori Wrasse Bommie is a great introductory dive site (max. 20m) as it has a sampler of everything on offer. The site is a combination of sandy bottom, small bommies on the sand, and a large staghorn meadow around 30m long.
On the sand any number of rays, from cow-tail stingrays to the strange looking guitarfish – half shark half ray – lie motionless hoping you won’t spot them. The bommies are home to the coloured reef fish that inhabit the hard coral reefs of most of the Reef: angelfish and butterflyfish, damsels and surgeons. One rare fish to look out for is the unmistakable Picasso triggerfish.
On the staghorn, you would be very unlucky not to see a turtle or three. It’s their preferred resting place, and often you’ll see them swallow dive from the surface to find a nice comfortable hollow – perfect for a snooze.
Though this dive includes the Wreck, the wreck itself is just a small part of the dive which covers both a sandy bottom and a section of reef.
The wreck of the sailing boat Severance is at 21m and though relatively new, it already has hard and soft corals growing on it. Below the bow, a school of sweetlips just hang, looking quizzically at you as you pass. Inside the wreck schools of wrasse circulate slowly, whilst outside often a solitary barracuda waits patiently.
Heading out across the sand keep your eyes peeled for some bigger stuff: reef sharks, turtles – green and loggerhead, and mantas. Remember to look up in the water column not just down at the sand.
Lighthouse Bommie provides your best chance to see mantas in season as it has a Manta Cleaning station on route.
As part of Lady Elliot’s Project Manta, over 100 individual manta rays have now been identified and named. Their cleaning stations have all been noted and so your best chance of observing mantas on the Reef is right here, in the right season.
There is, however, no guarantee that a manta wants to be cleaned at the time you happen to be there. Even so, if you’re patient you’ll usually be rewarded with at least one manta sighting, if not many.
Likewise, even if you are out looking for mantas, don’t close your eyes to everything else that’s around – close to Lighthouse Bommie is a turtle cleaning station, so the chances are you could see a turtle being cleaned too.