The Ribbon Reef And The Cod Hole Dive Site

The Ribbon Reef are a part of the area that many people call the Northern Reefs.

While not an official destination it is generally considered those reefs to the east and north of Cooktown.

This part of the Great Barrier Reef is not dived as often as other portions of the Great Barrier Reef Park. The largest reason is that other than Cooktown, there are few populated areas in this portion of the country. Cooktown itself is very isolated.

The only day boats that visit the Ribbon Reefs are from Lizard Island. Lizard Island is a national park uninhabited except for a few camp sites, a reef research centre and an exclusive resort.

There is a small airstrip, kind of stretch of the imagination to really consider it an airport, that transfers visitors to Cairns and back.

The Ribbon Reef look like someone laid a ribbon on the reef, they are long and narrow, about 55 miles long. There are Ten reefs that make up what is called the Ribbon Reef plus a number of small Bommie and other reef outcrops.

The reefs are not named just numbered one to ten. While some scientist consider the Ribbon Reef a reef type unique to themselves, the general classification is as a Barrier Reef even if they do not have the wide profile normally associated with a barrier reef.


ribbon-reef - Australia liveaboard


The ribbons do border on or near the continental shelf and they do provide a sheltered lagoon behind them which are traits that are associated with barrier reefs.

As the explorer James Cook found out, the reefs in this area are very dense.

While the Ribbon Reefs are narrow they do provide a barrier for ships and boats to cross. Many pelagic species also find it difficult to transverse the reefs.

There are a number of break between the reefs that allow boats to cross over and many pelagic use these same underwater alleys for the same reason.

Some of the best dive sites to watch the larger fish are near these breaks and in the right season they are also ideal locations to watch the whales that frequent the area on their trek north from the Antarctic. Dwarf Minke Whales make their appearance in late May and stay around till July.

While the Liveaboards do have special whale trips, the in water encounters are by snorkel.

A snorkeller laying motionless on the surface will often have one of these eight metre long whales come right up to them. They tend to distance themselves from scuba divers however.

The ocean side of the reefs quickly drop to a thousand meters. This provides the opportunity for outstanding wall dives.

Different dive sites on the top of the reefs provide many diverse experiences.

Behind the reef in the lagoon are scatter outcrops, minor reefs and Bommie.

A Bommie is a reef outcrop that raised from the floor almost to the surface.

They generally look like a tower. Most of the bommie used as dive sites start in 30 meters or so of water and rise to safety stop level of around 5 metres from the surface.

Scuba Divers drop to the floor and swim around the Bommie rising slightly as they complete a revolution.

Think of it as a metal screw, you follow the groves to the flat surface near the top.



To get a general idea of the location you can go to Google earth and enter the GPS location 15° 34.450′ S / 145° 46.780′ E, that is the location of a permanent mooring on Ribbon Reef number two, at a dive site named Groper Gap.

Ribbon reef number one can be seen just to the south of it. Entering the location 14° 39.815′ S / 145° 39.844′ E will show you the area at the north end of the Ribbon Reefs.

This is the location of the famous cod hole dive site on Ribbon Reef number ten.

Dive Sites:

The Great Barrier Reef Park encourages the use of mooring systems. The park creates some public moorings that are available to any boatman and allows permits for private moorings that are under control of the permit holders.

Permit holders are encouraged to share the moorings when they are not using it. There are 11 such private moorings on the ribbon reefs and about 39 around Lizards Island.

Most of those around Lizard island are for the research center but at least ten are dive sites.

You can not mention the ribbon reefs with talking about Cod Hole.  Cod hole is renown because of the Potato cod that call that portion of the reef home.

The fish are members of the groper family and are man size often weighing 90 kg.

They are not ranging fish, meaning they generally stay in the area they were born.

Ron and Valerie Taylor, The world renown underwater photographers and Australia’s first marine conservationist, are the ones credited with establishing the cod hole dive site.

They first found the site in 1971, however they kept the location secret for a long time.

In 1982, using photographs and movies, they started an effort to protect Potato Cod from commercial fishing as well as making Cormorant Pass a protected area.

This pass is now known as Cod Hole. There are different portions of Cod hole and they range from 10 to 22 metres.

The Potato cod are still there and often follow the divers around like a puppy would.

Under strict controls there are also some fish feeding by the dive masters. Maori wrasse, who can also get to 2 meters long, are also frequently found on the site.

At the front edge of ribbon Reef 10, where the pass reaches the open water is a dive site named Cod Wall. This is a sloped wall with a dense coral concentration and many species of large fish.

Ribbon Reef number 10, has the most dive sites, however the other reefs also has some excellent sites. Ribbon reef 3 is the second most visited of the reefs.

Steve’s Bommie is one of the sites on this reef and some will argue is the best site on the Great Barrier Reef. One thing that is agreed on by the scuba divers is that this site needs at least two dives.

On your first dive you will be overwhelmed by the variety of large species that will be circling this Bommie.

On the second dive you will be amazed at all that you failed to see on the first dive as you notice the smaller inhabitants of the reef.


 resort scuba dive


Spirit of Freedom provides a seven day program leaving from Cairns to the outer reefs, Ribbon Reefs, Lizard Island and Osprey Reef and returning to Cairns.

That program can be split into a three day that includes outer reef diving and ribbon reef diving, or a four night that is Ribbon Reef, osprey Reef and Outer Reefs.

The split location is Lizard Island. Guest embarking or debarking the Spirit of Freedom at Lizard Island will transfer by air plane to or from Cairns.


Mike Ball’s Spoil Sport provides a seven day program similar to the Spirit except it does not dive on the outer reefs.

It’s four day trip that dives the ribbon Reefs and the Osprey reef is on the outbound from Cairns.

The Leg between Lizard Island and Cairns is three days and all of the diving is on the Ribbon Reefs.