Situated on the Northern Great Barrier Reef, specifically Ribbon Reef Number 10, just north of Cairns and Cooktown is The Cod Hole. This dive site is celebrated and recognized as one of the best dive sites in the world thanks to the presence of the Giant Potato Cod (Epinephelus Tukula). Diving at the Cod Hole on the breathtaking Ribbon Reefs is a unique experience as friendly Giant Potato Cod swim in harmony with scuba divers. Accessible by liveaboard or a day trip from Lizard Island, The Cod Hole reaches 40 meters deep and is an exciting and easy scuba dive.
Taking a Giant Stride to Scuba with Giant Potato Cod
A nervous Scuba Woman, I am on the very high dive platform of Mike Balls’ liveaboard boat, the Spoilsport. I look across to my son Josh, my dive buddy, as I put my regulator into my mouth. I listen as the resonance of my breathing changes. We are about plummet into The Cod Hole.
My giant stride is perfect as I make the leap into the water. As we begin our descent, the first thing we see is a Giant Potato Cod chilling under the custom-built dive boat. This giant fish appears to greet us before serenely following us down to 15 meters as we begin to explore its home.
I am on a Dwarf Minke Whale expedition aboard the Spoilsport, Mike Ball’s custom dive boat. The Cod Hole on the northern Ribbon Reef No 10 is our second dive site. The previous day we were blessed to spend several hours in the water with Dwarf Minke Whales at Lighthouse Bommie. The Minkes were the big attraction for this liveaboard, the Cod Hole a close second.
Where is the Cod Hole Ribbon Reefs Great Barrier Reef?
We are on the Ribbon Reefs, on the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia. Best accessed by a liveaboard, the Cod Hole is part of a pristine collection of coral reefs spanning approximately 100km from Cooktown to the edge of the Continental Shelf.
Imagining The Cod Hole, I envisioned a deep hole with strong currents. In truth, The Cod Hole is an effortless dive with depths ranging from 3 meters to 40 meters. We are there in winter to see the Dwarf Minke Whales, and the water is a pleasant 26 degrees. The Giant Cod aside, the Cod Hole is a breathtakingly beautiful dive site.
Scuba Diving with Giant Potato Cod
Growing up to 2 meters in length, our interactions with the Giant Potato Cod are amazing. Black spots on their sleek bodies shimmer as they languidly swim beside us. They are relaxed, friendly, and curious and seem to enjoy the company of scuba divers.
Hovering quietly, I feel a connection with one of the Cod. He really is the master, and I am awed by his presence. A substantial fish, bigger than me, I move out of the way as this enormous cod swims directly at and around me. Feeling small, I note the thick, lustrous skin as he gracefully passes me by.
Sanctioned feeding of the Giant Potato Cod is allowed, and they are certainly hoping we will provide an easy meal for them. The Mike Ball team takes down a container filled with fish heads to attract the cod. It works, and the Giant Potato Cod are rewarded at the end of the dive when the contents are emptied into the sea. One cod is very interested in the container of fish and knocks our guide off balance.
The Cod Hole A Picturesque and Diverse Dive Site
When I knew The Cod Hole was part of our dive itinerary, I was excited by the opportunity to dive with the Cod. Diving The Cod Hole, I discovered it is a first-class dive site in its own right, with picturesque reef diving, striking swim-throughs, and multicolored Acropora corals. As always, I am amazed by the beauty and diversity of the marine life underwater.
An outstanding dive site, we also see flowery cod, grey reef sharks, trevally, parrotfish, large Maori wrasse, sweetlips, coral trout, puffer fish, barracuda, and lionfish. The large Maori wrasse gives the Giant Cod a run for their money. They are iridescently beautiful and enormous.
Giant Clams, Giant Cod, and Pygmy Seahorses Diving the Cod Hole
Things obviously grow big at The Cod Hole. Giant clams are scattered throughout the dive site. One, in particular, is so large it has become wedged between two coral bommies. Easily able to fit within its shell, I can imagine myself being slowly digested. Giant Clams are known to live to 100 years and weigh up to two hundred kilos. This colossal clam must be close to both. I really am feeling very small on this dive.
On the opposite end of the size spectrum, Josh and I are hoping to see a pygmy seahorse, which hides at depth. The tiny little seahorses grow between 1 ½ and 3 cm. They give birth to live young, with the male carrying the eggs in his pouch for two weeks. The cute little babies are only 2mm long. The Cod Hole is our first opportunity to search for a pygmy seahorse. They are known to camouflage on the coral fans at 30 meters but manage to evade us. If only this Senior Scuba Woman had thought to take her glasses.
Who discovered the Cod Hole?
Originally named Cormorant Pass, the Cod Hole was first discovered by Ron and Valerie Taylor in 1971. The Taylors kept the dive site secret for some time and fought to have the area and the Giant Potato Cod protected. The Cod Hole is now deemed a “sensitive location” by the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority. Originally inhabited by 25 cod, there are now only a few. The decline in numbers is of concern and gives me pause for thought. I would hate to think scuba divers have contributed to the decrease in numbers. It is yet another reminder for me to become more aware of and involved in marine conservation.
Mike Ball has Advance Ecotourism accreditation. I feel comfortable that Mike Ball expeditions are committed to environmental best practices and conservation. Everything I see on board attests to that. Dr. Alistair Birtles a lead researcher of the Dwarf Minke Whales, is also traveling with us. He is a wealth of knowledge on all things marine and a staunch conservationist. It is evident everyone on board the Spoilsport are environmentalist and advocate for ecotourism.
Returning to the Spoilsport at the end of the dive, a Giant Potato Cod is waiting patiently under the dive boat in the hope of receiving the bucket of fish heads.
If you too are wanting to experience the wonders of Cod Hole diving and the Ribbon Reefs, both Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and Spirit of Freedom operate liveaboards from Cairns and have Advanced Ecotourism Certification by Ecotourism Australia.
For more information on the Dwarf Minke Whale Project
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