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Your Guide to Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef

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...Highlights: turtles, whales, great macro life/ marine diversity, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Diving environment: healthy reefs, beginner and advanced divers, off the beaten track...

The Ribbon Reefs are long, thin strips of reef, which form the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef around 50-100 km off the northern Queensland shore and so are accessed only by Australian liveaboards. They are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and are covered in colourful corals that attract a plethora of reef life big and small, with sandy gullies separating them, themselves containing interesting critters. Characteristically no wider than 450m and are generally quite shallow, coming up to as high as 5m below the surface from a sandy bottom that is between 15-20m below the surface.

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef - photo courtesy of Mike Ball
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Cod Hole, as the name suggests, is a dive site famous for cod; giant Queensland grouper to be exact. What makes this site special is that the giant potato cod are virtually domesticated thanks to 2 decades of being fed by divemasters. There's something special about a 60 kg fish swimming right up to you for a nibble from your hand. During feeding time everyone joins the action as coral trout, sweetlips, triggerfish and trevally also try to muscle in on the action. One of the most famous Great Barrier Reef dive sites, Cod Hole is a spectacle to behold.

Steve's Bommie is a bit of a legendary site too. The ballad of Steve varies according to who's telling the story, but the common thread is that Steve loved this bommie, came to an untimely end and had the bommie named for him. A memorial plaque can be seen at 25m where most scuba divers start on this site. Legends aside, Steve's Bommie features a wealth of schooling action, big fish and macro life. Cruising barracudas, whitetip reef sharks and possibly even minke whales will leave you wanting to look everywhere at once.

The Temple of Doom is another peculiarly named Ribbon Reef site. Aside from macro action on the bommie itself, pelagic fish are a constant and you'll have to ration your time between the reef and the blue. Shark sightings are common as are large rays and bluefin trevally of the 70 cm plus variety.

With great visibility year round and mostly calm sea surfaces, the Ribbon Reefs are the staple of many liveaboards and provide fascinating Australian scuba opportunities for all levels of diver.

Dive Site Descriptions

Challenger Bay

Challenger Bay is between Ribbon Reef #9 and #10 and boasts excellent corals that will amaze you with dazzling colours. Extensive hard coral fields are intertwined by sandy gullies peppered with garden eels. You will often spot stingrays cruising along, with white tip reef sharks frequenting the outer edges of the reef in search of their next meal.

Starting at a mere 5m below, the top of the reef runs with a gentle slope down towards a sandy bottom at about 20m. Several bommies dot the landscape, which are interesting in itself, although the main reef wall is the focus of your dive. On your dive you can expect to see the very photogenic clown triggerfish, barracuda, red bass, sweetlips and huge schools of giant trevally.
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How to Dive the Ribbon Reefs

The Ribbon Reefs and Cod Hole are only found north of Cairns where the best diving in the area is to be found. As such a liveaboard is the only option from which to reach this area and enjoy diving on the Great Barrier Reef here.

Dive The World will help you select the liveaboard that's right for you, so start off by checking out our Ribbon Reefs liveaboard section.

Liveaboard trips to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef are very popular and fill up quickly. So we recommend booking well in advance.

The Diving Season

Due to Queensland's tropical climate, any time of the year is a good time to dive the Ribbon Reefs. Water temperatures fluctuate between 22°C in winter and 29°C during summer. Thanks to the absence of human activity in the area, visibility is good year round, with best vis from September to November.

During the wet summer months rainfall is moderate but usually limited to early mornings and later afternoons. The dry winter months see little rain. December to February are the rainiest months although the rainfall is often confined to night time. Surface conditions are most often calm but can become moderately rough during winter, although in and around the reefs there is plenty of shelter from the ocean swell.

In the winter months of June and July, dozens of dwarf minke whales can be seen on their migratory path around the Ribbon Reefs. The famous giant potato grouper are present at Cod Hole all year round.

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Where are the Ribbon Reefs and How Do I Get There?

Review our maps below of Great Barrier Reef, showing the location of the Ribbon Reefs, and their host country Australia. Here, you will find information on how to get to the Great Barrier Reef.

Map of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Australia (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 5 - 30m
Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Gentle
Surface conditions: Calm, moderate in winter
Water temperature: 22 - 29 °C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~25
Distance: 140 km north of Cairns
Recommended length of stay: 1 week

Useful References

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