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Featured Wildlife Journeys

  • Credit: Darren Jew

Corals

Coral Reefs are living organisms made up of a compact colony of thousands of identical individual polyps (tiny, soft-bodied organisms related to sea anemones and jellyfish). At dusk, polyps emerge and use their stinging tentacles to catch microscopic organisms such as plankton. Corals are typically categorised as being hard and soft.

Reef building for hard corals occurs when each polyp secretes a cup-like limestone skeleton known as a ‘corallite’. As the skeleton grows, the colony of interconnected polyps develop. There are more than 350 known species of hard corals on the Great Barrier Reef and 200 species at Ningaloo Reef, with Branching/Staghorn, Boulder, Plate, Cabbage, Brain and Mushroom corals some of the most commonly seen varieties. Hard corals have different growth rates; Boulder Corals are very slow growing with colonies that are hundreds of years old whilst Branching or Staghorn Corals are the fastest growing in tree like shapes at 10-15 cm per year.

Unlike the solid limestone skeleton that hard corals have, soft corals have tiny calcium ‘spicules’ in their tissues, with polyps having eight, feathery tentacles connected by fleshy tissue. Soft corals are mostly found in the deeper waters around Lady Elliot Island and Muiron Islands, just north of Exmouth & Ningaloo, as they do not need as much light as hard corals to survive. Some of the most common soft corals found across Australia’s tropical regions include Organ Pipes, Pink and Blue Soft Corals, Red Gorgonian Sea Fans, Elephant Ears, Cauliflower, Weeping and Sea Pens. A coral reef constitutes a varied and complex structure that serves as a habitat for many other marine animals, including Echinoderms (Starfish, Sea Urchins and Sea Cucumbers), Molluscs (Nudibranchs, Sea Snails, Mussels, Cuttlefishes, Octopuses, Squids), Crustaceans (Crayfish and Crabs) and especially fish.

Amongst the top of the most extraordinary natural events around the globe is the annual synchronised spawning of corals. This mass reproduction only happens once a year and at Lady Elliot Island, typically lasts for a few days around November or December after the full moon and always at night. Being at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, means that spawning at Lady Elliot Island happens later than northern parts of the reef as it takes longer for the water to heat to the required 26 degrees. In contrast Ningaloo reef’s spawning occurs between seven and 10 days after the full moon in March and April. This event triggers the arrival of krill and plankton which in turn creates a feeding frenzy for numerous fish species, including the regions most famous resident, the massive Whale Shark.

Viewing opportunities that include corals

Seasons
  • Humphead Wrasse

    Summer: Dec-Feb, Lady Elliot Island

    Amongst the top of the most extraordinary natural events around the globe is the annual synchronised spawning of corals across the Great Barrier Reef. This mass reproduction only happens once a year and typically lasts for a few days around November or December after the full moon and always at night. Being at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, means that spawning at Lady Elliot Island happens later than northern parts of the reef as it takes longer for the water to heat to the required 26 degrees.

    There are a staggering 1,500 species of fish living on the Great Barrier Reef, with Damselfish, Wrasses & Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Groupers, Trumpetfish and Mooray Eels just a sample of the fish types found within this amazingly complex ecosystem.

    Diving enthusiasts are drawn to the area at this time to see the many varieties of shark and ray species, including Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Leopard Sharks, Wobbegongs, Epaulette Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks and Common Blacktip Whalers, Manta Rays, Bull Rays and Eagle Rays.

  • Manta Ray (Credit: Ryan Jeffery)

    Autumn: Mar-May, Lady Elliot Island

    The water visibility through May reaches its optimum level, coinciding with the peak season for seeing Manta Rays. These graceful creatures grow up to 7 metres disc width (from wing tip to wing tip) and have the largest brain to body size ratio of any living fish, contributing to their curious nature when interacting with divers. Bull Rays, Cowtail Stingrays and White-spotted Guitarfish are common across the sandy sea floors, whilst the attractive but shier Spotted Eagle Ray and Blue-spotted Fantail Ray can be spotted with a bit of patience.

    There are a staggering 1,500 species of fish living on the Great Barrier Reef, with Damselfish, Wrasses & Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Groupers, Trumpetfish and Mooray Eels just a sample of the fish types found within this amazingly complex ecosystem.

    Coral Reefs are living organisms made up of a compact colony of thousands of identical individual ‘polyps’. At dusk, polyps emerge and use their tentacles to catch microscopic organisms such as plankton. Some of the most beautiful hard corals found around Lady Elliot include the Braching, Boulder, Plate and Mushroom coral whilst the ethereal Gorgonian Fan soft coral is one of the ocean’s most beautiful displays.

  • Bicolour Parrotfish

    Winter: Jun-Aug, Lady Elliot Island

    The water visibility reaches its optimum level in June, coinciding with the peak season for seeing Manta Rays. These graceful creatures grow up to 7 metres disc width (from wing tip to wing tip) and have the largest brain to body size ratio of any living fish, contributing to their curious nature when interacting with divers. Bull Rays, Cowtail Stingrays and White-spotted Guitarfish are common across the sandy sea floors, whilst the attractive but shier Spotted Eagle Ray and Blue-spotted Fantail Ray can be spotted with a bit of patience.

    There are a staggering 1,500 species of fish living on the Great Barrier Reef, with Damselfish, Wrasses & Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Groupers, Trumpetfish and Mooray Eels just a sample of the fish types found within this amazingly complex ecosystem.

    Divers will also be rewarded at this time with opportunities to see many sharks including Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Leopard Sharks, Wobbegongs, Epaulette Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks and Common Blacktip Whalers.

  • Gorgonian Fan (Credit: Ryan Jeffery)

    Spring: Sep-Nov, Lady Elliot Island

    Lady Elliot Island’s lagoons and reefs are home to over 1,200 different marine species, with divers able to enjoy a wonderful mix of hard and soft corals, including Braching, Boulder, Plate and Mushroom hard corals and Gorgonian Fan, Organ Pipe and Pink Soft coral.

    There are a staggering 1,500 species of fish living on the Great Barrier Reef, with Damselfish, Wrasses & Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Groupers, Trumpetfish and Mooray Eels just a sample of the fish types found within this amazingly complex ecosystem. Lady Elliot Island lies within a highly protected zone, with the continental shelf only 10km to the east, bringing the benefits of the East Australian Current.

    Divers are rewarded with viewing opportunities for an array of shark and ray species, including Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Leopard Sharks, Wobbegongs, Epaulette Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks and Common Blacktip Whalers, Manta Rays, Bull Rays and Eagle Ray.

  • Pink Anemonefish (Credit: Australia's Coral Coast)

    Summer: Dec-Feb, Ningaloo & Exmouth

    During the summer months around Coral Bay, Manta Rays form incredible mating chains, with up to 15 males fighting for position to mate with a single female. The region is home to a healthy resident population of around 600 Manta Rays, with Eagle and large Bull Rays also abundant in this area.

    The regions diverse array of sharks, rays, turtles and large fish make regular use of ‘cleaning stations’, where smaller creatures and fish such as Cleaner Wrasse, come out to clean parasites and diseased or dead tissue from these creatures. The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally.

    Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Olive Sea Snakes, Moray Eels and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are also highlights for dive enthusiasts.

    Tours in Ningaloo & Exmouth related to Corals

  • Whale Shark

    Autumn: Mar-May, Ningaloo & Exmouth

    In Autumn each year, the incredible mass spawning of coral takes between seven and 10 days after the full moon in March and April. This event triggers the arrival of krill and plankton which in turn creates a feeding frenzy for numerous fish species, including the regions most famous resident, the massive Whale Shark. This region is a haven for the world’s largest fish, with Whale Sharks of 12 metres length seen in the area. They spend plenty of time at the surface to feed and warm up from the sun’s rays. The opportunity to swim with these graceful and passive giants is an awe-inspiring experience.

    The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally. A huge variety of nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours.

    Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays, Bull Rays and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are highlights for divers whilst Manta Rays can be seen in performing their incredible courtship dances around April, with the species growing up to 7 metres wide (disc width) and around 1,350 kg (2,980 lb).

  • Nudibranch (Gymnodoris Impudica)

    Winter: Jun-Aug, Ningaloo & Exmouth

    The winter season coincides with Coral Spawn & Plankton reaching its highest concentration in the region, meaning the marine biodiversity at this time is incredible. The most famous resident of the region, the enormous Whale Shark, is seen until the end of July feasting on the krill and plankton. Manta Rays can also be seen gracefully dancing around Exmouth, feeding on zooplankton.

    With 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region it is a snorkellers and divers delight. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Cardinalfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Basslets, Cod and Trevally.

    Ningaloo is primarily a hard coral reef with Finger Coral, Staghorn, Porites common in the area, whilst at the top of the Exmouth Gulf around the Muiron Islands, there is a stunning array of colourful soft corals including Gorgonian Fans, sponges such as Callyspongia, Golf Ball Sponge, Mushroom Leather Coral and different species of tree coral. A huge variety of Nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours and are so named because most of them have exposed gills.

    Grey Nurse Sharks congregate around the Navy Pier during the winter months, competing for space with the Whitetip Reef Sharks and Wobbegongs.

  • Potato Cod (Credit: Australia's Coral Coast)

    Spring: Sep-Nov, Ningaloo & Exmouth

    Ningaloo Reef is one of the world's largest fringing reefs, with this intricate ecosystem branching over 260 km and, at some points, is only metres from the beach. This is an ideal time to see Manta Rays along the reef near Exmouth, that are present feeding on the plankton rich water.

    There are around 500 species of fish in the region including Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse through to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Giant Potato Cod and Trevally. A keen eye will be able to spot the Sailfin Catfish which is endemic to the region and present year round.

    More than 50 per cent of Indian Ocean coral species are found across the Ningaloo Marine Park area, with over 300 species, including Finger, Staghorn, Porites Cabbage, Brain, Lavender, Plate, Mushroom, Bubble and Branching Corals. Whilst not a coral, Anemone’s are common, providing habitat for some of the reef’s most endearing residents; the Clarkes, Pink and Tomato Anemonefish.

    Tours in Ningaloo & Exmouth related to Corals