ianskipworth.com > Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Jimmy's Black Coral Reef

Jim Hope, old salt skipper of Taranui probalbly knows the Aldermen Islands and surrounding area as well as anyone. During his travels he's noticed many un-charted blips on his sounder which indicate little known reefs. One of these, a tiny rocky outcrop, rises just a few metres up from an otherwise featureless sandy bottom between the Aldermen Islands and the mainland New Zealand coast.

Jewel anemonies (Corynactis haddoni) on dead coral branch, yellow finger sponge and blue maomao
Photo courtesy Neil Walker

I'd attempted to dive on this reef on a previous trip on Taranui. On that day we had perhaps 20 knots of wind, a metre of swell and significant current below the surface. Under these conditions our descent down the shot line was less than comfortable, particularly when faced with having to swim for some distance at depth into the current.

When we reached the anchor it was sitting on the sand and had obviously been dragged away from the reef by the current. I swam out across the sand into the current but the exertion was swamping my brain with nitrogen and I was soon forced to turn back and begin my ascent to surface.

One of the larger Black Coral (Antipathes sp.) trees on the reef.
Photo courtesy Neil Walker

My next attempt to visit to the reef was under much better conditions.

With little current, swimming down to the reef was effortless. As we reached about 35 metres the bright sunlight and clear water allowed us our first glimpse of the reef below. The grapnel had again pulled out onto the sand but this time was only metres away from the reef. We swam along a finger of rocks which extended towards the highest point of the reef - only about 4 metres above the sand.

From some distance we could see the white branches of the coral trees at centre of the reef. The two largest trees, perhaps 1.8 metres across were located on opposite sides of a small gut between two large rocks. Soon, we were inspecting the trees closely. Snake stars coiled themselves around the branches and fish sheltered in between them. Several dead branches were encrusted with clumps of beatuiful pink jewel anemonies.

Coral tree branch
Photo courtesy Neil Walker

I was no doubt heavily under the influence of nitrogen but with the easy dive down, good visibility and brightly lit conditions, I made a relaxed tour of the reef touching down on the sand at 52 metres and then inspecting 4 or 5 smaller coral trees before returning to the bigger trees. The reef seemed a small island of rock, plonked on an otherwise featureless white sandy bottom.

After 13 minutes dive time my computer was indicating the need for several minutes of decompression and it was time to farewell the reef. We had one last look at the ghostly white branches of the coral trees before swimming back out along the rocky finger towards the shot line. Two carpet sharks provided a momentary source of amusement as we disturbed them from their rest amongst the rocks before heading for the shot line.

Yellow, black and striped Snake Stars (Astrobrachion constrictum) curled tightly around a black coral branches
Photo courtesy Neil Walker

The decompression in little or no current was effortless and before long we were back onboard Taranui, talking excitedly about the dive and planning trips to deeper reefs in search of bigger trees.

Link to 2007 dive on Jimmy's Black Coral Reef.

2003 ianskipworth.com