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#GoBareboating to the Whitsundays' best coral

Photos by Johnny Gaskell

A guide to the top 5 snorkelling spots by Daydream Island marine biologist Johnny Gaskell

More often than not these days the eyes of the world are on the Great Barrier Reef.

There is much concern about the health of this global natural wonder and how it will survive the various challenges such as Crown of Thorns starfish and climate change.

While the Whitsunday islands and reefs have not been without these challenges, happily we have a good news story to tell, and one that you can be part of when you #GoBareboating with us.

Johnny’s mission

To help us tell the true story about “what lies beneath” the surface of our seas, we’ve enlisted the help of local expert Johnny Gaskell.

As the resident marine biologist at Daydream Island, Johnny is passionate about the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s well known that above water, the 74 islands of the Whitsundays all have their own story, but below the surface, each island has an equally fascinating story that is often overlooked at many of the lesser known Whitsunday Islands,” Johnny says.

Over the past two years, Johnny has made it his mission to attempt to explore the underwater world of every Whitsunday Island; the aim, to document the locations where coral is most abundant and see which sites contribute the most to the ecology of the Marine Park.

Where to start

Being a Daydream Islander, the obvious place for Johnny to start was the Molle group of islands and the nearby northern group.

After a few trips out to some of the protected bays post cyclone Debbie, Johnny was surprised to find undamaged coral cover at a number of spots including on North, Mid and South Molle islands and also at Armit Island.

“We also found a number of healthy coral sites down south in the Lindeman Group with some bays exhibiting great hard coral cover,” Johnny says.

Following the missions to some of these less visited parts of the Whitsundays, exploration of the more famous Whitsunday Group uncovered some amazing sites.

“After looking around in some of the more protected areas, the resilience of these islands was soon evident. Some of the protected bays on the east and west sides of these islands were in close to perfect condition,” Johnny says.

Looking at the best options for bareboat charterers, factoring in easy access to moorings and the presence of resilient species, Johnny’s Top 5 spots include:

Cairn Beach coral - by Johnny Gaskell

Cairn Beach, Whitsunday Island

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Here you’ll find a great example of a fringing reef that has, over time, extended out from the edge of the island.

“This long stretch of reef has one of the most densely covered reef edges in the Whitsundays,” Johnny says.

“There is a mix of hard and soft coral cover, which supports an extensive community of damsel fishes and fusiliers. Manta Rays can also sometimes be seen here in the winter months.”

This site can be visited in most weather conditions except when the wind is dominated by a strong southerly.

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Butterfly Bay, Hook Island

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Butterfly Bay has a diverse range of soft and hard corals spread over a large patch of fringing reef.

“It’s a good site to see rays, schooling fish and invertebrates such as nudibranchs,” Johnny says.

The site is located on the northern side of Hook Island where it is generally well protected from any wind that is not north dominant.

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Peter Bay, Whitsunday Island

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

On the western Side of Whitsunday Island, Peter Bay has a well-protected reef network that supports a range of marine animals.

“The coral structures are made up of a mix of large bommies and fringing reef edges,” Johnny says.

“The cracks between some of the bommies here resemble scenes more common out at the Great Barrier Reef.”

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Stonehaven Bay, Hook Island

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

At Stonehaven bay you can find some of the largest coral bommies in the region.

“Large Boulder corals with soft corals growing on the sides are common tucked away in the shallow parts of both bays near the moorings,” Johnny says.

“Visibility can be limited so the best time to go is during neap tides.”

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

Chalkie’s Beach, Haslewood Island

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

If you’re looking to swim off a pure white sandy beach out to a coral reef, this is your spot.

“Chalkies Beach on Haslewood Island has a soft coral dominant reef and plenty of colourful fish,” Johnny says.

Photo: Johnny Gaskell

The bigger picture…

Having now explored the underwater landscape at most of the islands over the last two years, it is clear to Johnny that the Whitsundays still has widespread coral cover, with many spots thriving.

“After the region suffered significant coral loss at some of the iconic sites in early 2017, the remaining corals at many sites are now fighting back,” he explains.

“These colonies are vital for local spawning events, which should eventually repopulate the areas that have lost cover.”

Although it’s not yet evident at many of the Whitsundays’ sites, coral bleaching as a result of global warming and macro algae dominance caused by an increase of nutrients in the water, remains one of the biggest threats to the future off the region’s reef habitats.

“The recovery and longevity of these complex ecosystems around our islands depend primarily on water quality, which ultimately depends on us,” Johnny says.

Like Johnny, we can’t wait to get out there among the islands and explore these beautiful spots.

We also want to ensure we continue to play a part in conserving them.

We hope you will join us in doing both.

For more information or to book a charter holiday with any one of our five member companies visit

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