Coral Sea Slug Diving

By Kevin Daly

I was in Australia over the past year doing commercial sea cucumber diving (affectionately called slugs by the divers) working out of Cairns. The most memorable of my trips out to sea was a Coral Sea trip during May/June 2001. Mid-winter is not the best time of year to travel out past the great barrier reef as the wind seems to blow almost constantly, but it is an awesome experience none the less.

Alex Lewis with a good DogtoothWe steamed out of Cairns in mid-May and first visited the southernmost reefs in the Coral Sea. We first dived Cato, Wreck, Frederick and Kenn Reefs. We did a fair amount of spearfishing in between the slug diving. Coral trout are a favourite eating fish and we shot a number of these up to 18kg. We had to test the trout for ciguatera poisoning which can be present in all but the smallest of trout. The Coral Sea is famous for its dogtooth tuna but these were unfortunately very few and far between perhaps because of it being mid-winter. We did see a few large doggies but only one big one was landed, a 47kg fish landed by Alex Lewis. We also landed three Maori wrasse, my biggest being a 62kg fish shot on a deep drop-off in 90ft. Tony Hartney shot the only Wahoo seen on our trip, a 16kg fish that he got by jumping in ahead of where he saw some birds feeding on bait.

After Kenn reef, we moved to Mellish, a reef that is closer to New Caledonia than Australia. Mellish has awesome structure dropping straight off to 300+ metres on the inside. The highlight of diving on Mellish was seeing a Minke whale up close. It was unfortunately too rough to dive the front face of Mellish because of constantly rough conditions. After Mellish, we worked our way back to Cairns stopping off at a few more good reefs along the way but mostly diving for slugs. The Coral Sea offers wonderful diving even in mid winter and I would love to return some day during the summer months.