Published in Scuba Diver Asia-Pacific April 2024

by Nigel Marsh

One of the biggest parties to hit the Gold Coast happen back in 1887 after the stranding of a cargo ship, the Scottish Prince. Now normally the loss of a ship would not be celebrated, except that the Scottish Prince had a cargo that included beer and whisky. When attempts to salvage the ship failed and it started to break up after a storm, the locals helped themselves to the precious cargo. Today the Scottish Prince is not remembered for the party of the year, but as one of the best dive sites in southern Queensland!

The Gold Coast has a surprising number of wonderful subtropical dive sites off its famous beaches. Offshore from this popular tourist destination are rocky reefs covered in corals, several small shipwrecks and some delightful shore muck diving sites in The Seaway. However, one of the best dive sites in the area is the Scottish Prince shipwreck.

The Scottish Prince was a 64m long steel-masted iron barque operated by the Shire Line. On 3rd February 1887, after a four-month journey from Glasgow, the ship ran aground on a sand bar off Main Beach, Southport. The ship was bound for Brisbane and it was hoped the vessel and her cargo, could be salvaged and reach its destination. Several steamships attempted to tow the ship to safety over the follow days. Unfortunately, all attempts to refloat the ship failed, and when a southerly storm hit several days later the ship keeled over and was abandoned, much to the joy of the locals. Today the ship rests on a sandy bottom in 11m of water and is an amazing dive.


I first dived this historic shipwreck over 30 years ago and it hasn’t changed much over that time. However, every now and then, after a storm hits the coast, more of the hull is exposed. There is no penetration on this compact wreck, making it safe for divers of all levels, and the hull is basically open for inspection. The most prominent features are the bow and stern.

The bow sits proud of the bottom and is twisted to the right. This is the highest part of the ship, rising about 5m off the bottom. The stern is also twisted to the right, while the rest of the hull sits on an even keel, but split open. The hull is heavily encrusted with algae, sponges, soft corals and other growth, and it is still possible to identify bollards, a winch, a donkey boiler, ribbing and plating. Off the northern side of the shipwreck rests the masts and crows-nest. Some of the ship’s cargo is visible in the hull area, including pipes, and every now and then a whiskey or beer bottle materialises out of the sand. As a protected historic site, you can look, but don’t remove anything.

While exploring the wreck is fun, the main reason that the Scottish Prince is a wonderful dive site is the marine life. Resting on a sandy plain, the wreck attracts marine life like a magnet. This ship is always covered in a thick school of yellowtail scad - millions of them swarm over the wreck blocking out the sunlight at times. Mixing with these fish are schools of silver batfish, bream, bullseyes and batfish. These in turn attract predators like trevally, kingfish, mackerel and even cormorants. Sitting at 10m and having a bird swim by is always an unexpected experience.


The Scottish Prince is also home to dozens of wobbegongs. Spotted, banded and ornate wobbegongs rest on the hull, under plates, in the mast or out on the sand. There are so many wobbegongs that you have to be careful where you place your hands. A strange thing happens on the wreck to some of the wobbegongs as they turn an orange colour, which I assume is from them either absorbing iron or changing their colour to match the rusty hull. Greater bamboo sharks and blind sharks also like to shelter in the nooks and crannies of the hull, hiding from the wobbies.

Numerous reef fish call this shipwreck home including morwongs, wrasse, porcupinefish, pufferfish, rabbitfish, surgeonfish, blennies, angelfish, butterflyfish, sweetlips, scorpionfish, stonefish, gropers and moray eels. And located in a subtropical region the wreck is also visited by temperate species normally seen in New South Wales, like mado, red morwong and kelpfish.

A number of ray species visit the Scottish Prince, including spotted eagle rays, whitespotted wedgefish, Australian blue-spotted maskrays, broad cowtail stingrays, common stingarees and blotched fantail rays. My favourite rays seen around the wreck are the recently described Australian whiprays, that have a pretty leopard-like pattern of spots across their disc. These rays generally rest under a layer of sand to the east of the wreck, so you may have to search for them.


A wonderful range of invertebrates also reside on the shipwreck; look for nudibranchs, flatworms, boxer shrimps, hingebeak shrimps, hermit crabs, octopus, squid and cowries. However, it is the unexpected surprises that always excite me, as I have found Australian pineapplefish, sculptured toadfish, juvenile yellow boxfish and leaf scorpionfish sheltering on the wreck. Green and hawksbill turtles also visit the wreck and can be seen resting on the bottom.

Visibility on the Scottish Prince varies from 6m to 20m plus and is always best after southerly winds. Only 800m offshore, the site can be surgy if there is a ground well. A great dive year-round, the Scottish Prince is one of the dive sites regularly visited by Gold Coast Dive Adventures. They operate several dive boats from Runaway Bay Marina, and can be over the Scottish Prince only 15 minutes after leaving the Marina.

The Scottish Prince is one of their most popular dive sites, and while it is generally done as a second dive, with its shallow depth you get plenty of bottom time to explore this spectacular dive site.