Fringing coral reef one of Daintree secrets
RIGHT on our doorstep we have a very rare and special type of reef - the fringing coral reef.
It’s spongy looking, but razor sharp. Drab brown and dead on top, yet awash with life and just wonderful from underneath.
It sits right alongside the coastline, where the rainforest meets the reef. And it only exists in a few special places on the mainland of Australia - north of the Daintree River and at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
Fringing reefs can’t survive where the big monsoonal rains wash muddy water into the sea from the major river systems, which is why most people never get to see them.
However, along the Daintree Coast and up past the Bloomfield River, where the mountains are close to the sea, the water is much cleaner, allowing the fringing reef to grow and survive.
Bryn Jones, a zoologist with Cape Trib Ocean Safari, elaborates on the workings of the reef.
“A large number of coral species not found anywhere else in the Great Barrier Reef have been discovered living and fossilised on the fringing reef,” he said.
“Due to the earlier lower average sea levels, a large portion of the fringing reef is now visible above the waterline when the tide drops.
“Although the majority of this is dead, under the waterline lives a thriving ecosystem consisting of many fish species such as groupers, rabbitfish, parrotfish and many smaller reef fish species.
“Some of the largest turtles in the wild, mainly green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles inhabit the fringing reef along with sharks and rays.
“Studies conducted in the area suggest these fringing reefs are actually healthy, supporting a rich variety of coral species and able to cope with acute disturbances such as cyclones, floods and coral bleaching episodes with only short term disruption.”
How can you enjoy them as a traveller?
From the sealed roads, you will find patches of reef at Cow Bay around Black Rock to Snapper Island, at Thornton Beach off Noah’s Range, Coconut Beach, off the Cape Trib Campground and between Cape Trib Beach and the Beach House. These are all accessible by normal sedans and hire cars.
Further up the Bloomfield Track, and accessible by 4WD and walking only, there are Emmagen Beach, Cedar Bay and several other little hidden spots until you get to a very stunning and complex system at Archer Point near Cooktown. Archer Point is easily accessible by motor vehicle.
To enjoy them, you can beach walk, go snorkelling; or try sea kayaking. Firstly, find a low tide, usually when the tides are below about 1.2m.
A good walk along the beach is the easiest, especially at Coconut beach, the Cape Trib Campground, Cape Trib Beach and Archer Point.
If snorkelling, you will need your own snorkelling gear as there are no hire places in the area. Remember either to have a buddy with you or have a friend spotting you from the beach.
Another beaut way is to go via sea kayaking. If you don’t have your own kayak, then Crocodylus (Cow Bay), Cape Trib Campground and Paddletrek are the only three hire and tour companies in the area.
“Sea kayaking is fantastic in any weather conditions,” Bryn said.
“On a flat calm day you can see turtles popping up to the surface to breathe and stingrays in the shallows of the mangroves. In stronger winds you can enjoy surfing the kayaks through the beach swell.”
Of course, if you want to see the reef in its complete dazzling form, then take the extra step and go out further to the mid shelf and outer shelf reefs with someone like Ocean Safari. There you’ll be able, without fear of stingers, to enjoy the colours and incredible diversity of the Great Barrier Reef.
Among the fringing coral reef: Bryn Jones at Cape Trib Beach