N I G E L    M A R S H    P H O T O G R A P H Y

U  N  D  E  R  W  A  T  E  R      I  M  A  G  E  S     A  N  D     A  R  T  I  C  L  E  S


by Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose


On a recent trip to the Mackerel Islands, in Western Australia, we did one dive that simply blew our minds. That dive site was called Black Flag and it has easily slotted into our top ten dive sites in Australia.


Greg Lowry, our guide from Mackerel Islands Dive, was the first person to dive Black Flag and had tried to explain that it was something special – running off a list of the marine life he had seen at the site. But this really didn’t prepare us for how good this site is.


Entering the water we could see the bottom below in the 15m visibility. Below us was a rocky terrain cut by deep gutters, caves and ledges in depths from 6m to 17m. We could also see masses of fish swarming over the reef.


We hit bottom and headed towards the first big school of fish, a cloud of stripy snapper. Beyond the yellow ball of snapper were a school of batfish and as we photographed them a school of silver drummer charged passed. We were literally surrounded by fish. After a few more photos we decided to explore the reef, entering a maze of deep gutters. In the first gutter we had to push the fish out of the way to make any headway, blocking our view were mangrove jacks, sweetlips and two large estuary gropers. Shining our torches into the dark ledges within the gutter we could see crayfish, shrimps and crabs.


We explored a dozen more gutters and found more fish – angelfish, rock cod, pufferfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, coral trout, red emperors, morwong, lionfish and many other species. Up until now we had been so overwhelmed by the amount of fish that we had ignored the corals, but this reef was also covered by spectacular colours – spiky soft corals, gorgonians, sponges, ascidians, anemones and even black corals – a riot of colour in such shallow water. And between these corals was a multitude of invertebrate species – sea stars, brittle stars, flatworms, sea cucumbers, feather stars and especially nudibranchs. Nudies were everywhere, eating the sponges, mating or just looking cute.


Exiting the gutters we reached the reef edge at 17m and proceeded to follow a ledge for the next half hour. Within minutes we had encountered a school of rarely seen threadfin pearl perch, a school of trevally and more schools of silver drummer and batfish. We then found a rocky outcrop shaped like a ship’s bow and below it were resting three white tip reef sharks. At the next cave we found a tasselled wobbegong and at the next a very large tawny nurse shark.


As we swam along the ledge we encountered more reef fish, several more white tip reef sharks, stingrays, grey reef sharks, gropers, moray eels and even a turtle.


With our air and memory cards running low we headed back to the boat, stunned by the amount and variety of marine life at Black Flag. Upon surfacing Greg informed us that it wasn’t as good as usual as we didn’t see the giant Queensland gropers, the bull sharks, the sea snakes or the schools of barracuda. But what we saw was enough to convince us that this was one special dive site.


Black Flag is a dive site that you could do again and again during your stay at the Mackerel Islands, but make sure you allow time to explore the other great dive sites in the area, like Trap Reef, Rankin Road and Sultan’s Reef. And try to do some exploratory diving as there are still many more incredible dive sites to be found in this new frontier in Western Australia.


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