As soon as we stepped off the Catamaran and set foot on the remote Heron Island, we knew we had been transported to another world. Left behind was the familiar trappings of civilization and before us lay a small island wilderness whose chief residents were Black Noddy birds and the denizens of the Great Barrier Reef. Heron Island lies 70 kilometers off the East Coast of Australia and is part of the Capricorn group of islands. Heron sits directly on the Barrier Reef and visitors enjoy the benefits of direct access to this wondrous world. It is a small island, measuring only 1.7 kilometers in circumference (there are no roads, no traffic lights, no cars!). Indeed, you can easily walk around the entire island in a half-hour.
The purpose of our journey to Heron Island was to dive the Great Barrier Reef and perhaps observe some of the island's famous Green Sea Turtles, who use this island as a breeding ground during the summer months of November through March. Our expectations were met on both accounts, with several surprises thrown in for good measure!
Heron Island is the site of feverish mating and egg laying by the Green Sea Turtles who return here each year to breed and deposit their eggs on the sandy beaches of this remote location. During our visit, we observed large female turtles hauling themselves up onto the shore each evening, struggling to crawl away from the reach of the high tide and to find suitable locations to dig their nests into the soft sand. It is an awe-inspiring site to witness these animals so valiantly pursue this purpose, undeterred by the weight of their own bodies on land, the circling sea birds who look constantly to grab a free meal from the egg laying process or the tangle of trees, roots and other natural debris on the beach. The process of depositing these eggs takes several hours and is in contrast to the swift emergence of baby turtles from previously deposited eggs. This was an equally spectacular event that we witnessed several times during our visit.
As sunset approaches over the island, a little understood natural trigger causes the eggs of a nest to all hatch simultaneously and the baby turtles all emerge, as if on cue, from beneath the sand. Then, in a mad scramble for safety, the turtles scamper down the beach in the direction of the water. The race is truly on, for circling above are sea birds seeking to snatch the turtles from the sand. The mass migration to the sea of twenty to forty turtles is both comic and tragic: The small turtles resemble little wind up toys as they use their flippers to scramble over the uneven sand! However, in addition to the birds over head, there is no safety in the water either. On several occasions, we witnessed schools of Reef Sharks patrolling the waters several feet off shore waiting for the turtles to enter the water. Additionally, resident populations of stingrays and other reef fish also present formidable threats to the turtles as well. This is nature in its wildest form, and we were grateful to witness this miracle unfold before us. Hopefully some of the turtles we watched made it to the safety of deeper waters and will return in the coming years to breed on these very beaches once again.
Our dives were equally special on Heron Island. The reef systems are very healthy, with large stands of staghorn coral. Large outcroppings of mountainous coral (locally called Bommies) are home to fascinating schools of colorful reef fish. We observed Barimundi Cod, Rock Cod, Sweet Lips, Hawkfish and Angelfish in large numbers. We also spotted several Zebra Lion Fish, Brilliantly colored Ribbon Eels, and the ever-fascinating Nudibranchs, which always make for great Macro Photographs.
One of the highlights of our diving was the encounter with a school of huge Manta Rays at a cleaning station on Heron Island Bommie. A trio of 12-foot Manta Rays circled us for 20 minutes as we watched in fascination. The Rays were seeking relief from parasites from the local cleaning fish and we were thankful that our presence did not seem to affect them at all!
We also saw reef sharks, stingrays, lemon sharks and other large marine animals all in close proximity to the island. Each dive here was a journey into a wilderness removed from the adverse affects of Man.
Heron Island is also home to very large populations of sea birds. Between the raucous cries of the nearly 100,000 Black Noddy birds and the ghostly, evening cries of the resident Mutton Birds, our time on Heron was not a silent one! Indeed, the aroma of bird guano is one of the first things that strikes you as you set foot on the shores of this island, but you quickly become accustomed to it.
Leaving the island via helicopter, we were able
to gain an appreciation from the air of the beauty
of the tiny coral cay. Circled by blue Australian
waters, the island appears as a jewel dropped into a
blue velvet background. The reef itself is visible
through the transparent waters and this, one of the
seven natural wonders of the world, is a
breathtaking site from the air. We bid farewell to
this island and wish its residents well...
DAN diving insurance is
Reaching Heron Island
Heron Island is located off the mainland of Gladstone, which is located 539Km North of Brisbane with a population of 22,000. This town has the largest harbor exporting coal produced in Queensland State.
Visitors can reach Heron Island by taking a short 30 minute fight by helicopter or a take a two hour shuttle by catamaran. As a side note, there is only one shuttled per one day. US Dive Travel - Heron Island lists some prices for these transfers.
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Come and see our multimedia presentation called, "Heron Island: Island of the Turtles" which premiered for the first time at Beneath the Sea. If you're interested in booking this program, please contact us via email or use our Online Program Request Form.
Running time: 90 minutes
Program Number: DP19
2001 Article Release
Sportdiving Magazine - Australian
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