Dive into the Gold Coast’s Wonder Reef

The Gold Coast has opened Wonder Reef, the world-first artistically designed buoyant reef, designed to create a thriving eco-system off the Queensland Coast.

Artificial reefs are intentionally placed benthic structures built of natural or man-made materials, which are designed to protect, enhance, or restore components of marine ecosystems. These man-made reefs form sanctuaries for a diverse range of sea life and provide unique experiences for divers and underwater photographers. Wonder Reef has been designed to do just that.

Anchored approximately 2.5 kilometres offshore from Philip Park, The Spit on Queensland’s Gold Coast, Wonder Reef is the work of Australian artist Daniel Templeton and explores the themes of movement, repetition and time to create a living art reef that captures the imagination and attention of divers, art-lovers, architects, eco-tourists, engineers and scientists throughout the world. 

There are 9 structures to explore. Photo Credit: Set In Stone Media

The newest addition to the Gold Coast Dive Trail, the nine underwater sculptures, towering almost 22 metres above the sea floor, move like giant kelp. Each structure is anchored to the seafloor and the varying depths of the reef make it ideal for a range of diver levels. Divers can witness the ever-changing ecosystem, the deeper you dive this vertical drop dive.  Explore swim-throughs with Indian scad bait fish, giant gold-spotted rock cods, Queensland groupers, and sequined mulloway and admire the flourishing coral as it evolves over time.  

Templeton describes the nine large-scale vertical underwater sculptures as “beacons of optimism and invention”, which is reflective of the Gold Coast’s bold and creative persona.

Where Wild Things Roam editor Kate Webster dived into Wonder Reef to experience what all the fuss is about.

Diving in

Diving in. Photo Credit: Set In Stone Media

The visibility was limited on decent below the ocean surface, but as I hit a depth of around eight metres, a structure emerged before me. This buoyant reef spiral is one of nine that make up Wonder Reef, with each structure anchored to the seafloor some 30 metres below.

The structures themselves move with the ocean like a giant kelp forest. The reef’s energy is incredible as it ebbs and flows with the current, and the constant movement of fish and sway of soft corals brings it alive. The first thing I noticed was the unique shape of the structures, which reminded me slightly of the spiral ridges of a shark’s egg.

These shaped reef structures are not just for visual appeal though. The artistic design of Wonder Reef is the work of Australian artist Daniel Templeton and explores the themes of movement, repetition and time to create a living art reef that captures the imagination and attention of divers, art-lovers, architects, eco-tourists, engineers and scientists throughout the world. Templeton describes the nine large-scale vertical underwater sculptures as “beacons of optimism and invention”, which is reflective of the Gold Coast’s bold and creative persona.

Reef life

Diving the Wonder Reef. Photo Credit: Set In Stone Media

Circling the first structure, I notice a lionfish swimming just out of sight under the lip of the formation. Its dazzling striped long pectoral and dorsal fins fanned out in display like a peacock’s tail. Taking a closer look, I was surprised at the coral growth already forming on the spiral, with soft and hard corals adding colour and texture. Upon installation of the structures, Marine experts undertook large-scale coral planting of local species to accelerate marine growth, creating more than 32,000m³ of new reef. Depending on the species, it’s expected that transplanted coral will grow between one to 25 centimetres per year.

The different depths of this vertical drop dive allow you to witness the ever-changing ecosystem, the deeper you dive. Divers can explore swim-throughs with Indian scad bait fish, giant gold-spotted rock cods, Queensland groupers, and sequinned mulloway while admiring the flourishing coral as it evolves.

On closer inspection, you can spot octopuses hiding in the nooks and crannies and nudibranchs dancing on the coral surface. Dive a little deeper and you find larger schooling fish like tuna and bigger pelagic fish.

Dive Wonder Reef for yourself

Book your dive of Wonder Reef. Photo Credit: Set In Stone Media

Gold Coast Dive Adventures is currently operating tours to dive Wonder Reef. The costs for a double dive with gear is currently AUD$165 per person (at August 2022). Visit their website to find out more, at goldcoastdiveadventures.com.au/wonder-reef-dive-trip/